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P A W S Undiscovered Namibia 40 Travel Namibia Every year thousands of people head to Okonjima to hear about the work of AfriCat - a big cat sanctuary roughly halfway between Etosha National Park and Windhoek. They may spend two or even three days at the lodge, tracking leopard, learning about rehabilitating rescued cheetahs or going on bushman walks. But tourists have never been behind the scenes. until now. As Mary Askew discovered, a new project allows people to see much more of these beautiful cats, and do so much more for their long- term survival. TJ, an Okonjima leopard, has a radio collar which allows him to be tracked OPPOSITE: Wahoo, another Okonjima leopard, enjoys his kill ADAM PACEY T here was great excitement as I arrived at the PAWS project. A leopard had just been seen at a water hole, 20 metres from where guests were sitting around the campfi re. I say ' guests', but perhaps ' workers' would be more correct. Staying at the camp is no traditional holiday. Right now everyone is relaxing with a beer in their hands, watching the sun set over a nearby kopje. However, much of the day has been spent grafting. These people have a seemingly impossible mission - restoring 22,000 hectares of shrub land to how it was 200 years ago, before cattle, feeding troughs, fences and boreholes were introduced. Their biggest enemy is the thorny sickle bush which has encroached on much of Namibia's savannah. Once cleared, the land will be used by AfriCat to increase the number of cheetahs and leopards it can rehabilitate. The foundation already has cats waiting to be introduced to the land. Most of the animals are cheetahs that have been preying on cattle. In Namibia farmers are free to trap and kill cheetahs on their land, but AfriCat offers them a humane alternative. Clive and Roma Muccio- Johnson have sunk their life savings into the PAWS project ( PAWS stands for People and Wildlife Solutions). They arrived at Okonjima four years ago to manage one of the lodges, but quickly realised they wanted to do something much more hands on. " Restoring this land is my passion and I want to install that passion into everyone that comes here," says Clive. " Sixty per cent of the grass species found here 200 years ago have disappeared, and it would be great to re- introduce them. A dream would be to bring back rhino and elephant too. It's a very long term project. We think it will take about 12 years to complete the work, although by the end of 2009 we should have a perimeter fence up so AfriCat can start bringing in some animals". for thought

Travel Namibia 41