Due to one of the program instructors falling ill, we had a weekend day on Friday instead of classes. The activities of the day included a shark and seal adventure, as well as a visit to Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation and Awareness Centre, where we got to take part in the Wild Ways tour.
We spent the first half of the day in a lovely beach area surrounded with shops, cafes, and restaurants in the region of Plettenberg Bay. We enjoyed snacks like fried calamari, jalapeño poppers, and ice cream (for the boys). One of the other students, my friend Ryan, went on a boat tour to see some sharks and seals. The rest of us sat on the beach and soaked in the sun and beautiful view. We even caught sight of at least five dolphins barely off the shore! We then enjoyed a burgers at one of South Africa’s most famous chains, Spurs.
Then it was time to see the cats.
Despite my other journeys to different reserves, including a three day safari I spent with my family, I had yet to see any cheetahs. I was beyond excited to get close to them.
Tenikwa is a rehabilitation center that introduces visitors to a variety of predator species. The center offers different types of tours, but our group booked the ‘Wild Ways’ experience, on which we first walked through the separate landscapes of different species, then had the opportunity to walk around an open space of land WITH a free-ranging adult male cheetah!
The indigenous Wild Cats of South Africa were unlike any other group of animals I’ve ever come across. I was beyond impressed. We first got to see four caracals, who have funny fuzz on the top of their pointy ears. They wagged their tails like happy dogs.
Next, we got to watch a brother and sister lion soak in some sun as well as wrestle with one another. The brother lion was more blonde-white. I thought it was an albino lion, but our instructor informed us otherwise. The lioness got up from her spot on top of the hill and came straight where our group stood behind a fence. She rubbed her head against the fence, sticking her ear through some wire. I wanted so badly to pet her beautiful coat, but we were heavily warned not to touch any of the animals, so I held myself back.
Other animals we saw included warthogs (pretty ugly creatures, in my opinion – sorry Pumbaa!), meerkats (much cuter), penguins (very curious ones, those birds), and servals, who look like miniature cheetahs with funny, large ears on the top of their heads.
Most excitingly, we got to see the leopards and lions! Leopards have a little more defined spots with thicker bodies and heads. We watched as our guide threw food over the tall fence holding the animal back. It speedily jumped towards its meal, only to return to the fence to ask us for more. We also watched a cheetah feeding. The snapping of bones is quite a chilling noise, if you have happen to never heard it before. One can only imagine what would happen if a cheetah were to bite its own human body.
We were able to get incredibly close to the wildlife within the facility, and it was an experience I hope to keep in memory forever.
The tour ended with our walk along the cheetah path as the adult male ‘Zuma’ (which translates to cheetah in Swahili) ran and trotted about his way. He often stopped to spray and mark his territory. Our presence brought him no bother. The staff provided us with a picnic where we could overlook as the cheetah rounded a small body of water. It was quite splendid.
As we returned home, I couldn’t help but think this has been such an amazing way to spend my summer. Walking with elephants and now cheetahs! I’m so blessed to have the ability to do these things and take part in this Africa Media program. I can’t necessarily put the full emotions into words, but being around wild animals in their natural habitats truly alters your perception of Mother Nature and the Earth.
Our planet is so, so beautiful, and I love being able to explore it, while I have the chance. Just a reminder that human beings are not the only creatures on this planet, and we ought to be more conscious and caring towards the world that provides us with our needs.
Stay tuned for more African Adventures to come!