Discover the best places to see cheetah in Namibia in both the wild and in rehabilitation centers.
20 Mar 2023
Share article on
Dawn. The cool breeze rolls over the plains of the Namibian savannah and offers her much needed break from the hot sun she stands underneath every single day. Her lithe and elongated body dances with the turns of the wind, her snout in the air smelling for her prey of the day. What will she spot today? Steenbok, gazelle or springbok? Her excellent eyesight outweighs that of even the strongest multifocal lenses. Creeping up onto the unassuming springbok, she gauges the situation; her face focused; almost as though she is using her senses to feel out the situation - and compare the advantages and disadvantages of this kill. Black spots all over her body, teardrops seemingly falling from her attentive eyes, and her streamlined posture makes this unique feline one of the most interesting to observe in the wild.
The springbok moves, she bolts. The chase commences. The springbok dashes across the veld, blazing through the grasslands with the instinct of survival taking over and toppling the need to graze. The cheetah accelerates; pounces and lands the kills.
Acinonyx jubatus, or cheetah as they are more commonly known, are one of the most endangered kinds of big cats which exist in wildlife. Namibia is home to one-fifth of the world’s total free roaming cheetah population, one of the largest percentages in the world today.
These cats grow up to 1.4 meters in length and can weigh up to just a little over 50 kg. They have a streamlined body with an elongated spine, semi-retractable claws, and a long tail for balance - making them excellent hunters. The carnivore hunts during the day, which reduces competition with bigger cats such as lions and leopards.
But where should you head to in Namibia to see this speedy feline? We share our top five places to visit.
Human-wildlife conflict, illegal trade of wildlife, climate change and other factors have over the years nearly wiped out this animal, however, there are organizations which do incredible work in research and rehabilitation to bring these numbers back up, and to preserve the lives of those that exist in the wild today. Currently, there are approximately less than 8,000 cheetah left in the wild.
Conservation in Namibia is one of the focal reasons for the success of wildlife and heritage tourism. As one of the pioneering countries in the world to include the protection of animals and plants in its Constitution; the country has since implemented numerous Acts of Parliament and policies in the sectors of conservation, natural resource management and tourism. The bottom line is the continuous and sustainable harmony which needs to exist between the government, local communities and the environment.
Whilst human-wildlife conflicts and industrialisation remain an issue, organizations and NGOS such as the Cheetah Conservation Fund of Namibia, the Africat Foundation at the Okonjima Concession and Na’an ku se, educate people on living side by side with cheetahs, and care for this dangerously endangered species, while also being incredible destinations to include in any itinerary.
Where to find cheetahs in Namibia
1. Etosha National Park
Namibia is extremely unique. We have some of the highest dunes in the world, the second-largest canyon and the largest meteorite in the world. We also have a salt pan so large that it can be seen from outer space!
Centred around this pan and located in the northern part of the country, Etosha National Park is an African treasure. Formed over 100 million years ago, the pan is about 130km long and 50km wide, which takes up nearly the entire expanse of the park. The park itself is an incredible wildlife destination, which has numerous waterholes which can be viewed from a secluded point in close proximity to the wildlife , namely Okaukuejo, Okondeka, Halali, Goals, Sueda and Salvadora. The Park is home to over 114 species of mammals, which includes the cheetah.
When to visit
We suggest you visit after the rainy season, when there are fewer water sources in the park and animals are most likely to drink from the man-made waterholes. This would be from late May to late October.
Where to stay:
There are numerous options for accommodation inside and outside the Park. Starting in southern Etosha, guests can opt for the more luxurious Ongava Concession or Etosha Oberland which are located a few km outside of Andersson Gate. Guests could drive into the Park themselves from here, or be guided by lodge staff. Just after entering Andersson Gate, where guests would be required to pay a park fee (currently N$150.00 per adult/day and N$50.00 per vehicle/day).
Near the entrance, the Okaukuejo Rest Camp. boasts waterhole chalets, and charming campsites, guests who stay here will get the special experience of waking up with the wildlife. Further northeast would be Halali, while you’d find Dolomite Camp northwest. Drive through the Park on a leisurely game drive and continue to Namutoni Fort, which is located in Etosha East, before Von Lindequist Gate.
Further north from here outside the King Nehale Gate, guests could also opt from the Etosha King Nehale Lodge, which is newly built. Outside of Namutoni, one would find the mid-range to luxury Onguma Concession and Mushara Collection.
There’s something for every kind of guest around Etosha.
2. Africat Foundation in Okonjima
“The AfriCat Foundation was born in the early 1990’s, a Namibia registered non-profit organization which started out primarily as a welfare organization, and has since become focused on educating Namibia’s young farmers and school children, communal carnivore conservation, and on research projects which are essential in accomplishing its mission of the long term conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores in their natural habitat.”
The foundation is found on the Okonjima Nature Reserve and is well worth a day trip. The foundation focuses mainly on conservation efforts, education and protection of wild and endangered animals such as leopards, pangolins, wild dogs, brown hyenas and aardvarks.
Visit Africat Foundation
The Africat Carnivore Care Centre is a by-product of the “Rescue-and-Release” which is a tactic of rescuing injured cats, rehabilitating them and releasing them back into the wild. However, some of these cats cannot be released back into the wild and are thus housed at the centre, where they are provided with food to maintain a healthy diet and veterinary care. Some of the cats were caught without their mothers, due to human-wildlife conflict, while others were in captivity under unsuitable conditions and have thus become habituated and are unable to be released back into the wild and expected to thrive properly.
As a prerequisite to keeping these animals at the centre, a mandatory veterinary check is done by scientists, as well as medical specialists on the rehabilitation and treatment of captive cheetahs and other large carnivores. The centre also houses an Education Centre which gives children and adults alike the chance to observe cheetahs up close in captivity which in turn educates them on some of the behaviours of their wild counterparts.
Guests can visit the Foundation and visit these “ Species Ambassadors” - a term fondly used by staff to elude to the cheetahs and other species which had been rescued and cannot be released back into the wild due to old age or habituation. This will offer a wonderful learning experience. This, in my opinion, would rather be regarded as viewing them in captivity - albeit for the benefit of their species.
Sadly, after 18 years of cheetah rehabilitation on the reserve, the team has concluded that due to the growing numbers and prevalence of larger predators such as leopards and brown hyenas, they are unable to properly ensure that cheetahs can thrive in the environment.
As a result of this, according to the foundation’s Cheetah Rehabilitation Project, the following was decided:
“The high density of leopards in particular and the resulting strong overlap of home ranges between leopards and cheetahs are contributing to the high rate of interspecific competition and thus, mortality rate of cheetahs in the reserve. Predator-avoidance strategies such as natural large ranging patterns and the utilization of hunting grounds in areas of low predator occurrence are difficult to implement due to the fence restricted usable area.
With the creation of more open plains in the reserve over the past years, we have hoped that we could achieve a more distinct separation between leopard and cheetah habitat use and thus, decrease the encounter rate of the two carnivore species. Due to the fact that the anticipated success failed to appear, the AfriCat Foundation reached the decision that the Okonjima Nature Reserve with its high leopard population will no longer be used as a release site for rehabilitated cheetahs.”
Note, you can still visit the Africat Carnivore Care Centre.
Established in 1986 as a “guest farm” by a family of cattle farmers, Okonjima is now known as an incredible destination in Namibia, as well as one most important for carnivore protection - by means of the Africat Foundation mentioned above. Whilst the Africat Foundation are stopping rehabilitating cheetahs here, this currently still remains one of the best places to see cheetah in the wild.
Located approximately 48 km south of Otiwarongo, this reserve boasts a number of unique properties such as Okonjima’s Omboroko Campsites, Okonjima Luxury Bush Camp, Okonjima Plains Camp and Okonjima Villa.
Okonjima Luxury Bush Campboasts large, spacious rooms, with glass panels and large windows which give guests an unrestricted view of the beautiful landscape. Guests are treated to a lapa, swimming pool and their own private sitting room. The Okonjima Plains Campis family-friendly, wheelchair accessible and has amazing sunset views. Guests can look forward to the incredible views over the plains of the reserve, a large veranda and lots of sunlight and fresh air.
The reserve is well known for its work with carnivores and endangered species, in particular with leopard, cheetah and pangolin. Guided nature walks, game drives, and nocturnal game drives (guests at the Luxury Bush Camp have access to the nocturnal hide, where they can possibly see nighttime activities of some fauna on the reserve!). Birding and walking trails are also some activities to consider.
4. Cheetah Conservation Fund of Namibia, Ojiwarongo
“CCF’s mission is to be the internationally recognized centre of excellence in the conservation of cheetahs and their ecosystems. CCF will work with all stakeholders to develop best practices in research, education, and land use to benefit all species, including people.
CCF’s vision is to see a world in which cheetahs live and flourish in coexistence with people within a sustainable system that is protective of the environment, socially responsible, and economically viable.” - that is the mission of the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
Founded in 1990 in Namibia, the main aim of this organization is to educate and conserve this endangered cat. Their main conservation focus lies on adopting the best practices to create a holistically conducive environment for the protection of cheetahs. They are involved in conservancies and operate from within the Greater Waterberg Landscape Conservancy. Other notable conservancies around the area which they support directly are the Ozohahi Conservancy, African Wild Dog Conservancy, Okamatapati Conservancy and the Otjituuo Conservancy.
By supporting communities in the area, with special emphasis on farmers, they help mitigate human-wildlife conflict. They do this by breeding Anatolian shepherd and Kangal dogs to become Livestock Guarding Dogs. The dogs are placed on farms as puppies in order to get accustomed to the animals and the people and scare off predators. This reduces the presence of cheetahs getting into farms and farmers having to protect their livestock against them meaning fewer cheetahs are killed by farmers.
Research is the most important tool for the accurate protection and rehabilitation of cheetahs at the CCF. They focus on various biological topics, such as genetics, reproductivity, human-wildlife contact and virology. They have built state-of-the-art laboratories and resource centres to aid their research and they work with scientists from all around the world. They use their technology to track, rehabilitate, treat and innovate tools to best manage the cheetah on the conservancy, as well as all around the world.
The CCF can be found mainly in Namibia, but also in Somaliland, where it has opened a safe house for cheetah cubs which have been recovered from the illegal wildlife trade of this animal. This safe house was opened in collaboration with Somaliland wildlife protection authorities and in addition to rehabilitation, also acts as an extension of the cheetah sperm bank opened in the UAE, with frozen samples which are vital for the longevity of this species.
The CCF, located in Otjiwarongo is home to the world-renowned International Research and Education Centre for cheetahs. It is also a great ecotourism centre, where guests can go for day visits or overnight at one of the accommodation facilities on site. The Life Technologies Conservation Genetics Laboratory & The Haas Family Veterinary Clinic is the key genetic research facility on site.
Daily activities include tours of the CCF facilities, feeding of the cheetahs which cannot be released back into the wild, cheetah run where you join the cheetahs for their morning exercise and a cheetah drive to the main centre to meet some of the cheetahs. These activities are popular with adults and children alike so are perfect for a Namibia family holiday.
Furthermore, the CCF also houses the Dancing Goat Creamery, which makes goat’s cheese from the livestock protected by the Livestock Guarding Dogs provided to local communities by the CCF.
Where to stay
Guests can be accommodated at Babson House or Cheetah View Lodge. Cheetah View Lodge has an incredible view of the Waterberg Plateau and clients who stay here are treated to a 15% discount on cheetah activities.
Babson House is a more luxurious option and is a guesthouse which can be booked for private use. It sleeps 6 and has a private veranda for breathtaking sunsets and viewing of cheetahs which are never too far away.
Outside of the conservation area, guests can opt for lodges within the Waterberg Plateau Nature Reserve, such as Waterberg Wilderness Lodge and Waterberg Plateau Lodge which is a mere 2 hours away. Even closer would be Frans Indongo Lodge, which is less than one hour away.
The CCF also has an airstrip which is accessible by private charter, and guests are welcome to explore this option.
If you are passionate about wildlife conservation and ecological research, a visit to the Cheetah Conservation Fund will definitely be an amazing experience for you. Make sure to pop this into your itinerary, you will not regret it.
5. Naankuse Lodge
Located only 30 minutes from Hosea Kutako International Airport, this lodge is located within the amazing 3,200-ha Naankuse Reserve and is linked to the Naankuse Foundation. With six beautiful chalets, each equipped with twin beds, verandas overlooking the veld and air conditioning, this is a great choice of accommodation in the area.
They also have luxury villas on site, which are perfect for families and are located close to the main section of the lodge. Guests who book the villa can opt to dine in at the restaurant or have their food delivered to their room. The option to self-cater is also available.
Visit Naankuse Foundation Wildlife Sanctuary
The Naankuse Foundation Wildlife Sanctuary provides a safe haven injured animals including cheetahs and wherever possible these animals are relased back into the wild. Only animals too ill, abused or habituated remain at the sanctuary as they would likely not survive in the wild.
Guests can see carnivore feeding experiences, where they will be able to share stories about the animals on the reserve, including cheetahs, as well as see the guides feed the animals. They also offer the cheetah experience, where guests can view cheetahs in captivity which cannot be let out into the wild anymore due to habituation. Guests can take pictures of the cheetahs (without flash) and would need to book one day in advance.
Due to the close proximity to Windhoek, we advise that guests slip this into their activity as a starting or ending point. Definitely not to be missed!
The cheetah is at present one of the most endangered animals on the planet. For a country like Namibia which has been at the forefront of wildlife conservation in Africa, protection and rehabilitation of the species is vital. Guests can slip visits to the abovementioned areas into most itineraries, as well as stay at some incredible accommodation facilities. The point is in any case to educate oneself and help support the efforts being done by conservation organisations and lodges alike to keep the cheetah roaming on the plains of the Namibian savannah.