My Second Home

A few nights ago I had this privilege to share a young caracal ‘s first night outside. Her name is Ruby. The first hour I gave her company, she was very excited.
She was hunting these nocturnal butterflies all the time. After I switched off the lights, she came lay on my legs for the rest of the night. She was so sweet. Although the lions made a hell of a noise during that night, It was such a nice experience that I’m going to have more sleepovers with her.
Hereby I would like to thank Riana the owner as well as the full Staff to make moments like this happen.
If you are also going to volunteer at cheetah experience in the future, you will also be able to have magic moments like this. It’s my third time @ cheetah experience within 18 months now and it will not be my last one . Each time is different as new animals wich need to be taken care of arrive @ this unique place where people give everything what’s in their power to give these animals a better live.
This is like a second home to me.

Ben from Belgium

Riana and Fiela – A blog from the past..

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If, on a rare occasion and peaceful night, you are privileged enough to be in Riana’s company when and if she speaks about how Cheetah Experience started, you cannot help but to be amazed at the selflessness, courage, passion and dedication that started what is Cheetah Experience today.  When you look at her and Fiela lying so peacefully together, one cannot help but to wonder about the memories that they must be sharing. They come from days where the only certain thing was the fact that they had each other. The rest was in God’s hands.   And if you look into Fiela’s eyes, you cannot help to wonder if she had any idea, or awareness, of what it took to get to where they are today. And if at night, you are awaken by a soft wet Cheetah nose sniffing your face, you cannot help to wonder if she is telling you that you should not worry, they will take care of you as they do for 34 other animals today.  And if you see Riana walking around, almost always in the background and always with the wellbeing of the animals the foremost thing on her mind, you cannot help to wonder if this woman realises that she is a real life hero to man and animal alike. But mostly, you cannot help to be amazed at God’s patient and caring hand in it all. One thing is for sure, the world and these animals would have been worse off if not for these two wonderful creations of God. Together, they have changed the future of many animals and the life’s of many people. Riana will be the first to tell you that “dankie” (thank you) is such a short word and totally inadequate to express their gratefulness for what they have received and are receiving. Well Riana, the feeling is mutual. The word certainly is too short to express what we want to say to you. The meaning however, goes deeper than what any words can ever describe!

Everything in Life Happens for a Reason…..

 

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write because for the first time in my life I really didn’t know how to say goodbye to the people who have for the first time in my life really made me feel a part of their family. Plus I don’t know how to stop writing about so many things so I’m going to have to post a few blogs I think!!😛

I firmly believe in fate and coming to Cheetah Experience was never on the cards for me originally while I was here in Africa for 3 months, but things happen for a reason and while I was disappointed that my cheetah cub ambassador raising program that was originally supposed to happen in a whole other area of South Africa wasn’t going to go ahead, it was because a better path was in store for me and I can’t thank the Gods enough for throwing that at me as I would have never made it to here and met the amazing people I have here. As fate would have it, I was kindly invited up to Bloemfontein, all the way from Cape Town, to experience a whole new level of life and animals.

Each person here has helped me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to become and I have never met such a team of people who work and mesh so well together, but also towards their follow workers and volunteers. They said great leaders don’t create followers, they create new leaders, and that’s exactly what Riana has done here. Each and every one of you have different strengths and you all bring out the best in each other and I’m a firm believer of building each other up and magnifying peoples strengths rather than focus on their weaknesses and that’s exactly what happens here and why it works so well and every day makes it so easy to smile and laugh and enjoy life, knowing that at the same time you’re making a difference to some incredible endangered animals.

I’ve fought so hard over the years, so many battles, so many doubters and people who have laughed at me and told me my dreams weren’t achievable, but here, I have had had nothing but support, and people believing in me – even when I haven’t believed in myself and I can’t thank you enough for being there for me every step of the way and making me grow into the person I am now.

I am more confident in pursuing my dreams and more determined to continue the life I’ve wanted to live because of all of you. You’ve taught me what it is like to be part of a pride and accepted me for who I am, what I do and what I believe in and not about what I look like and that’s made this biggest difference in my life as I finally believe in myself.

You don’t inspire your teammates by showing them how amazing you are – you inspire them by showing them how amazing they are….and that’s made all the difference to me – you’ve helped me believe in myself and now I’m so glad that I never gave up on going after this one big dream of coming to Africa because I know now it was a path that was supposed to happen, and you were all people I was meant to meet all for different life lessons.

All the animals at the facility are amazing in their own way and I’ve seen quite a few different facilities and ‘sanctuaries’ and this is one that I would have no hesitation in putting my name behind and support every step of the way. The animals are so well looked after – enrichment is one of their highest priorities and the safety and well-being of each animal as well as the staff, volunteers and any visitors is always at its highest.

I think one of the best experiences I’ve had is the care and opportunities that I was provided during my stay. I know from personal experience that it is such a difficult challenge getting involved in the animal industry and getting hands on experience and getting the opportunity to ask as many questions as you can, getting help on assignments, learning new skills and being educated on animal husbandry, their welfare, their behaviours, how to be safe around them…..again, I can’t thank each and every one of you for entrusting me and providing guidance with absolutely every aspect of these animals lives, trusting me with their welfare and that’s how I know that this place is something I can’t wait to share with everyone and work with in the future.

I truly wish you all the very best in each and every one of your journeys and just remember to follow your dreams – they were given to you for a reason. And don’t forget, too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, and kind word, and listening ear, an honest accomplishment or the smallest act of caring – all of which have the potential to turn a life around. You have truly turned my life around. J

 

Love to you all and until my next blog….. Tegan xoxo

 

Expect the unexpected….

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Four hours ago, I was standing at a bus stop looking bewildered and now I have a stethoscope in my ears and am staring at a sedated animal while listening to her heart beat and respiration. She’s received a cocktail of ketamine and medetomidine and is entirely zoned out, which is vital as the veterinary surgeon is performing a dental check right now and Pepsi has sharp teeth. I make all the checks I usually would do with any patient. Every animal is unique and every case is therefore different and special. As a veterinary nurse, this is not an unusual occurrence for me, with one key difference. My patient  today is a cheetah.

Its day one of my placement volunteering at Cheetah Experience and I am helping the staff and the on-site veterinary team with DNA sampling.

Occasionally, for no reason, my brain likes to play chicken with itself. While Pepsi the cheetah is safe and stable, right now the fact that there are only approximately 7000 free-ranging cheetah in the world has bubbled to the front of my mind and is flashing away in neon lights. Factor in all cheetah in the world total, including those in zoos and collections and allowing a generous dollop of cheetahs who missed counting, and you can estimate that there are at best about 10,000 cheetah total left in the world, making Pepsi 0.01% of all of her species. This doesn’t sound a lot but for comparison, 0.01% of the human population would be around  74,000,000 people, slightly more than the entire population of Thailand.

No pressure then. Thanks, brain.

All is currently well and I report Pepsi’s status to Sandra the vet. Sandra has completed her general exam of Pepsi and is now taking swabs to send for analysis. Pepsi, like all of the breeding cheetah at Cheetah Experience, is registered in the International Studbook, a collaboration of cheetah facilities worldwide that keeps data of captive cheetah populations and is managed by an individual. This information allows different cheetah collections to work together in ensuring that the captive cheetah population remains as diverse and healthy as possible. DNA sampling is one more step in helping to ensure this.

Pepsi is given a clean bill of health and injected with atipamazole to reverse her sedation. Sandra will send off her paperwork. At 10 years old, Pepsi is fairly senior for a cheetah but any genetic information that can be found out about her will be helpful. For the other cheetahs sampled earlier today, the DNA analysis will help indicate which cheetah may make good genetic matches to breed the next generation.

It is not quite Tinder for cheetah though. If you think finding a partner is tricky as a human, spare a thought for Pepsi and her kind. In the wild, populations can be variable and finding any desirable cheetah at all is a challenge. Factor in that neighbouring cheetah are often related and its easy to see why wild cheetah populations are not as genetically diverse as their captive counterparts. In captivity, too, cheetah breeding is not easy. Just because two cheetah are a perfect match on paper does not ensure that they will be interested in mating with each other. Good Sense Of Humour is not something that you can tell through DNA and as far as lady cheetahs go, sometimes factors other than genes are important in picking a mate. With so few cheetahs left to pick from, its not easy being a cheetah looking for love.

Pepsi  is very quickly conscious and looking around. Staff members will stay with her as she recovers to keep her safe and comfortable. It has been excellent experience for me to monitor cheetah and I am delighted to see Pepsi sitting up and starting to purr. If only her species could recover as smoothly.

Sian – UK

Never give up on your dreams..

Chloe and Abby

 

Never did I think when I volunteered at Cheetah Experience for the first time in 2014, would I be sat writing a blog as a staff member of CE. I’ve been here for 13 weeks, having previously volunteered last year for three months I can not believe how quickly the past three months has past!! I have a visa for two and a half years and feel that time seriously needs to slow down already.

This life has always been my dream, my goal. I had a good job in England. I worked as a tutor on an Educational Farm in Sheffield, but this was never where I saw myself long term. When I was 7 years old I went on safari in Kenya, words can’t describe such an experience. Even at such a young age, it put a seed in my mind that I was going to work in Africa with wildlife. When you’re at school and you say that, well it’s not exactly a “career” you’re told. You must go to university, you must set upon a career path that leads you to 2.4 children and a mortgage on a semi detached house. Why? Why can’t I go and work with animals? That’s what I want. So here I am, 27 years old. No house. No kids. Nothing to tie me down. I am in South Africa, living that dream that I’ve always wanted, always longed for.

Cheetah Experience has given me this opportunity, to work with Cheetahs, Leopards, Lions etc and I feel incredibly lucky. This place is so full of love, drive and commitment towards these animals lives. Each and every animal is cared for with respect and the time we spend with them cherished. I pinch myself to believe that I’m sat listening to a cheetah purr, helping to dart and bring home leopards that belongs here, health checking cheetahs, cutting up horses and gutting chickens (yeah, well it can’t all be pussy cats and cuddles can it!!).

It’s real, it’s my life and I’m beyond happy.

 

Chloe

What could I say about Cheetah Experience?

Back home in Finland I practically write for a living, so when I was asked to write a blog post about my time here in Cheetah Experience, it was odd that I was in lost of words. What could I say that would describe it all? Or even parts of it? Every day is so unique and wonderful and includes so many incredible moments with the animals and people. 

It’s almost the midpoint of my time here and still every day feels like the first one. Sure, I’ve learned a lot and I’m not totally lost all the time anymore, but the animals and the humans here amaze me every day as much as they did on the first day. It’s unreal to start your day of work by arriving to the car park in front of the tiger and hear him chuff as a hello. It’s incredible to poop scoop and clean the enclosures as the sun rises and cheetahs or leopards follow your every move and occasionally try to play with brooms and brushes. 

All the animals here are such individuals, all interesting and captivating. Same goes for the people. Especially the staff keeps amazing me, the love they have for the animals. Most of them have left their homes and families on the other side of the world for years just to be with these animals. 

So, I think the word that I was looking for was love. Love is great, the greatest, in Cheetah Experience. 

Love,

Meri

Shrekky and Fiona, a dream come true!

Trying to explain to anyone how much i wanted to make sure these two beautiful leopards were safe and loved forever was an impossible task..

I first met Shrek in 2011 when i first volunteered at Cheetah Experience. Id never been so close to a leopard before and within the first few hours of volunteering i could stand inches away from this gentle giant.. Shrek is a huge leopard, the biggest we have ever had at Cheetah Experience. I remember watching in awe as Arno, a local volunteer who helped raise Shrek would walk into the enclosure like he was going in with a house cat.. Shrek would amble over to Arno, gently grumbling his hellos before resting his head and shoulders against his 2 legged friend. I was watching Love between a human and a big cat before my very eyes… It was incredible!

As time went on it was easy to see why Shrek captured so many hearts!

Fiona was a bit of a different story, te second time i volunteered at Cheetah Experience in 2012 i came face to face with a feisty angry leopardess… She would throw herself against the fences, hissing and spitting in an effort to make you go away… Did i listen? Of course not… I decided that there was something very special hidden behind the teeth and noise, and made it my plan to make friends with her… Its not the easiest thing in the world to make friends with a leopard who clearly doesn’t give a damn about being friends… I would sit near the enclosure daily, mostly ignoring Fiona, reading or just watching the other animals play… As Fiona relaxed, i would sit ever closer until i was against the fence… Now and again Fiona would come closer, but if you dared to look at her she would revert back to the hissing, spitting angry girl i first met… Eventually Fiona realized that i, and the others who also put in time and effort with her weren’t a threat, she became bolder and more confident till eventually she would sniff my hand… Soon i could stroke her soft fun, and then the fun began! We made up a game of hide and seek, where she would sneak up on me behind some rocks, i would pretend i didn’t see her until the very last minute, then it would be a game of who made the other jump first!

Fiona found her heart here at Cheetah Experience, she learned to Love, play and be happy.. She and Shrekky were good friends, Fiona brought in spirit and fun to their relationship, while Shrekky was calm and gentle…

Imagine my dismay when i was told they would be leaving and returning to the game reserve they belonged to, it was an awful time, knowing that id have to say goodbye… No one wanted them to go, but unfortunately because they belonged to someone outside of Cheetah Experience, we had no say. We pleaded and tried to find a workable solution, but the answer was always no..

During the next 3 years, while i was in South Africa i visited them as often as i could, usually every 4-6 weeks… I was initially torn as to wether it would be better for them to forget me and the staff at Cheetah Experience, or wether we helped to retain the bond, nd to give them hope that one day they would come home… We decided that to have hope is better than to lose it forever..

I never gave up on my dream of bringing them home, i hounded, begged, wished and definitely annoyed Riana with my constant pleading of asking their owner to release them into our care… Riana wanted it just as much as me, and repeatedly asked the owner if we could house them, have them, buy them…. For 3 years the answer always remained the same… no…

Suddenly out of the blue in May 2016, almost exactly 3 years to the day they left, Riana called me squealing with excitement!! They can be ours she yelled down the phone!!!!! Shrek and Fiona can be ours!!!!!!!!

I couldn’t really speak, i was knee deep in chickens on the back of a bakkie, and couldn’t say anything except ” really? ” It took some time to sink in, did Riana really say that, did i imagine it??  But no, it was real…. we had to buy them, R130,000 for them both in total, an incredible amount of money… To make it more unbelievable, we had 30 days to raise the money and complete the transaction, or we would lose the chance forever..

Without even questioning it, i knew that i had to raise that money, and so came the next 30 days, a whirlwind of fundraising, emailing, phone calls and events… I was up for everything and anything to make it happen… Its amazing quite how much fundraising can take over your life, i was dreaming of how to raise the money when i actually managed to sleep properly. It literly filled every waking moment, every conversation and every thought…

At first the fundraising was slow… i felt like the dream was going to slip out of my grasp, but then it began, people donated little by little, our donation tins started to rattle… People gave their time, skills, we sold cookies and muffins, dressed in onsies in the sun, stood in the malls, and asked everyone we could think of if they could help..

R130,000 sounds like a lot doesn’t it, we not only managed to hit our target, we slammed it and raised R230,000!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We don’t only have enough money for the leopards, we have enough for their enclosure!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Its amazing, and it is all thanks to every single person who helped, wether they donated, or gave their time, we could never have made the target without each and every one of you… I will never ever be able to thank you all enough, my wish came true!

Shrek and Fiona are home safe! Their new enclosure is in progress, they have settled in, are relaxed and calm… Still to this day when i go to say good morning to all the animals, i have to stop and just take in the fact that they are really here, they are really home here with us forever….

 

Poofy