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….