When I travel I find I like to do the unordinary, of course I’ll find myself doing the normal touristy sites but more often than not I like to wonder off and see the real “place”, meet real people who aren’t tourist obsessed and get engrossed in where ever I am visiting’s culture.
Animal Sancutaries are one of those places I actually seek out in a country I visit for the fact that these people more often than not volunteer their precious time to animals that have been mistreated by humans, hurt in the wild or survived poaching. To me supporting them is a far greater reward than lining the millionaire down the roads pocket because he paid serious money for an awesome statue and now charges you to see it.
Travel for me is also about experiences, I love interacting with the world around me and leaving a place feeling like I “lived”. Most sanctuaries have hands on experiences available to those who visit that allow you to interact directly with the once wild animals. Some may object to this and granted there are some dodgy places out there but the key is to find one that actually cares about the animals.
On my recent trip to South Africa we stopped off at a few animal sanctuaries as we went. The first was Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary in Plettenberg Bay, a little town along the Garden Route. Jukani takes in a number of big cats, zebras, buck and other creatures and gives a walking tour amongst all the enclosures and encampments. Here you don’t get a hands on experience but rather you walk away with a new found appreciation of both the animal and what they do to help save their species. Honestly I also wanted to spot the viral sensation on Facebook, namely Spirit the black leopard who was once known as Diablo for his bad mood swings.
Our next sanctuary was the Eagle Encounters at the Spier Wine Farm. Here was multi purpose stop, have a look around all the wild birds and a quick delicious wine tasting. Eagle Encounters takes in injured birds from around the country and rehabilitates them to the point that they are able to fly away. If for some reason they can’t leave they are kept comfortable and safe. Some of the birds are so tame that you get to stroke their heads and spend a while with them.
One of the funniest moments of my life took place here… We were walking around admiring the eagles when we heard some one shout “F U! F Off MF” I kid you not. We looked around trying to see who on earth was cursing like a sailor but we couldn’t see anyone so just continued. As we got closer though to what looked like huge crows the light bulb went on. It was the birds swearing at us!!! We spent a good 15 minutes practically rolling around on the floor laughing our heads off. The birds didn’t think it was funny but omg who expects birds to be so rude!!!
Finally our last sanctuary was the Cheetah Outreach which is run solely by volunteers who travel from around the world to work there. Honestly I’d probably quit my job just to work there and play with these gorgeous cats all day. This by far was one of the best sanctuaries I have ever been to.
Not only do they care about the animals, they take the time to educate you about the animals and more importantly are aware of the animals moods and would rather give you your money back than have you interact with an animal that isn’t in the mood for company. For example the kids really wanted to hold a meerkat and be close to one as well as the Serval but they weren’t in the mood so no go. To me this is a huge indication of the true purpose of a place… whether its for “profit” or truly for the animal they claim to want to protect and save.
If you ask the kids what they remember the most from their trip to South Africa they will tell you it was stroking the Barn Owls, getting to have a Black Eagle sit on their arm, the time they stroked baby cheetahs and made them purr or how they had lemurs try to sit on their heads.
Experiences create memories the rest just fades away and to walk away knowing you did some good by helping out the sanctuaries for me is something that adds to a more positive travel experience.