Of Felines and Fences
Kavita Lion Lodge, Namibia

© Kavita Lion Lodge

Fortuitously, we arrive just in time for tea; carrot cake and brownies, washed down by tea and coffee under the neatly thatched boma of Kavita Lion Lodge.

Cattle-farmers turned conservationists, Tammy and Uwe Hoth have turned their 9 000 hectare farm over to 1 000 head of game including Oryx and Hartmann's Mountain ebra. Kavita is also home to a Lion Sanctuary and the Afri-Leo Foundation.

The Afri-Leo Foundation

There are now probably fewer lion in Namibia than black rhino. Once distributed throughout the country, today, only an estimated 690 lions are left, all in the north of Nambia; in Etosha and Khadoum National Parks and Damaraland. Their  ecreasing numbers accelerated between 1980 and 1994 as they were squeezed out by encroaching livestock farmers. As a result, lions were declared a protected species in Namibia in April 1996.

The Hoths established the Afri-Leo Foundation in 1997. Their farm borders Namibia's famous Etosha National Park. Like the other border farmers, they suffered from stock losses as lion and spotted hyaena came through the ill-maintained fence and preyed upon their livestock.

Tammy determined to find an alternative to shooting the offending predators. In consultation with other farmers from the area, the Etosha Boundary Fence Project has been set up and the farmers donate mesh wire to the Environmental Ministry with which they patch the fences.

The Lion Sanctuary

As fate would have it, at the same time as the Afri-Leo Foundation was registered, the last zoo in Namibia closed its gates. The Hoths were asked to take their six lions and although they had never intended going into captive carnivores, this proved to mark the birth of the Lion Sanctuary at Kavita.

The three sub-adults roam a fenced enclosure of 150 hectares while the three older lions have traded their cages for 3 hectares of open bushveld. A well-placed hide offers excellent photo opportunities.

The Lodge

Five well-spaced chalets with their own verandas and en-suite bathrooms overlook the mopane bush in which the farm is set. The thatched rooms are furnished in natural earthy colours, with textured creamy walls offset by walls of natural stone. Clothes hooks and toilet roll holders are transformed into objects of interest by the artfully accentuated use of natural wood found on the farm and made to look like driftwood.

The obligatory African sundowner is served around the fire in the new lapa, also constructed from mopane wood with textured terracotta walls. Dinner's first course is eaten in camp chairs around the fire; cauliflower soup in long-handled potter bowls. The buffet calls us inside to roast lamb and chicken, courgettes with cheese, sauteed potatoes, rice and butternut halves stuffed with peas. A green lettuce, onion and feta salad takes up the remaining room. Dessert is a lemon mousse with light frothy cream and tangy lemon rind with coffee to follow.

The Community

We wake to coffee and home-made crunchies and rusks in the lightening dawn before setting out on a guided walk with Tobias. A Damara whose home farm is 30km from Kavita, Tobias is a reformed giraffe poacher turned conservationist and trainee guide. He explains, that like the commercial farmers, the communal farmers also have problems protecting their livestock from lion and cheetah and their water holes from elephant.

As fast as they fix their cattle camp fences, the elephants break them down. The inevitable reprisals follow. His community started their 'Elephant's Corner' conservancy in 1997 with the aim of protecting the animals in order to benefit from them. Funding was provided by the Germans at first but now, as Tobias puts it, 'we are standing on our feet. 'We have kudus, elephants.Our conservancy is working very nice.'

Tourism activities include licensed trophy hunting and a campsite has recently been opened in the Grootberg. The money generated goes into a communal bank account, helping to keep vehicles in diesel, maintain clinics and put children through school.  Along with Tobias' exposition of the local flora and fauna we are introduced to the ways of his people.

The Damara use the reddish pods of the Purple Pod Terminalia to make coffee, roasting the dry pods until they are black, then crushing them before pouring over boiling water. The coffee is sweetened with honey or the edible sweet sap of the blue thorn. The innate prudence of the ant is employed by the Damara women in making 'Tombo,' a traditional beer. They plunder the hoard of grass seeds collected by the ants in preparation for the rainy season.

The Wildlife

We take to the jeep on our afternoon game drive. The red sand track winds through plains of winter perennial grass and mopane trees with their new summer foliage. A small herd of blue wildebeest enjoy the new green shoots from the first good rains of the season. 23mm had fallen a week or two before. A giraffe's neck rises from distant tree cover.

Every so often another impassioned red-crested korhaan breaks the canopy of trees in his fervent flight of fancy. The only time the crest from which he gets his name is visible, is when he is head over heels in love. In the fevered heat of November's breeding season, he launches himself aloft and flutters in mid-air like a black rag tossed into the sky. He flashes the red crest coquettishly just before he lands.

As the sun sets, splashing pink across the dusky sky, we come across a fair-sized herd of kudu females with their young, including one solitary male who will be chased out by a mature bull when the females come on heat. It's that time of year, it seems.

The Future

As for the future of the Namibian lion, attempts are being made to increase their habitat through conservancies like Elephant's Corner and private game reserves such as Kavita. Increasingly farmers along the boundary are looking to long-term conservation and tourism.

The animals will be able to move onto their properties from Etosha creating buffer zones between park and human habitats and  eliminating the need to fix their fences. Sometimes, no fences make for better neighbours.

by Laurianne Klasse

Copyright © 2003. Laurianne Claase. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.
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