My “volunteering with wild cats” adventure

After receiving quite a few questions about my trip to South Africa, I decided to write another blog about my volunteering work I did for two weeks in Bloemfontein.

I’ve been wanting to “work” with wild cats for the longest time. Lions are the most magnificent animals and being able to be up close to them, other than staring at them while they’re living their miserable lives in a zoo, has been a dream for as long as I can remember. So in September of 2013 I did some research on whether this was possible and where. I eventually came across a video on YouTube from a girl who volunteered at this place called “Cheetah Experience“. I googled their website & Facebook page and I was convinced. So I ended up e-mailing them for more details on their volunteer program. I was very excited because of their answers & fast responses so I ended up booking the trip, a couple months later, in December of the same year.

I booked my flight about four months in advance (I went to Africa in March of 2014) with KLM Airlines. There was a direct, international flight available from Amsterdam to Johannesburg. The flight was around €500 if I’m correct, which isn’t too bad at all considering it was an 11-hour flight. Johannesburg wasn’t my last stop. I eventually had to get to Bloemfontein, which is about an hour flight away from the major city, 3 hours if you drive their. But considering it was my first time in South Africa I had no interest in sitting on a bus in a relatively “un-safe” country for a couple hours. I booked my flight with South African Airways.

When arrived in Bloemfontein someone from Cheetah Experience picked me and my cousin up (she decided to tag alone). The airport was +- 30 minutes away from the sanctuary.

We stayed at the volunteer house (included in the price you’d pay to go there) which was a 2/3 minute ride from the sanctuary. Breakfast & lunch was served daily and you’d be taken to the supermarket twice a week to buy dinner & other things you’d like. The cost price for two weeks there was around €500. However I don’t know the exact prices for 2015.

Arriving at Bloemfontein and being surrounded by cheetahs, lions, leopards, wolves and more animals was the most incredible feeling. My cousin (Shana) and I were welcomed by the staff members & other volunteers from all around the world. (Most) of them were very welcoming and they immediately explained to us what we’d be doing over the course of two weeks while we were there. All the chores were divided into two groups: the lion-side & the cheetah-side. You’d work on one side one week & the other side the next. The lion-side meant you’d work with/for the leopards, lions, wolves, caracals & servals. Working on the cheetah side meant, well, working with & for the cheetahs.

Duties included, but not limited to, cleaning poop (wolf poop SMELLS SO BAD and they poop.. A LOT, like A LOT), checking the fences, feeding the animals, checking whether all the animals appear to be healthy, guide tours, work at the curio shop and more.

On a regular day you’d have from 12 to 2 off, unless you’d have to guide a tour during lunch time. When there are a lot of volunteers (full capacity at the volunteer house) you’d have more free time compared to when there aren’t that many. Free time means you can interact with the animals (wolves, the tame cheetahs and the smaller animals), read a book, relax, do whatever you feel like doing. Interacting is only allowed when you feel comfortable AND when the animals feel comfortable around you. Most of the animals were brought up in captivity (please don’t confuse this with a zoo, because it is very different) so they are pretty tame, but they maintain wild animals.

Now that I just mentioned it I’d like to explain the differences between a regular zoo and a sanctuary, or Cheetah Experience in this case. The animals live in a much, much bigger area. Most, or a lot, of them are rescued. At a zoo the animal gets food and that’s pretty much it. At Cheetah Experience the volunteers & staff members try to make sure the animals don’t get bored, still try to let them use all their senses, enrich the animals (almost on a daily basis) and more.

Back to the volunteering. (I’m so sorry this story is so long) Day in day out you’d wake up when the sun comes up, which is pretty epic, and the first thing you hear are the lions roaring. I can guarantee you, there’s no better way to wake up. We’d start our day, work long hours and we’d get the chance to get to know the animals a little bit more. I especially enjoyed spending time with the wolves. Wolves are obviously a lot like dogs, but I consider them to be even more loyal, more trustworthy. You know how a dog knows when something’s wrong? A wolf does too. It takes quite a while before a wolf gets used to you and ‘accepts’ you. At Cheetah Experience you have to get accepted by Shakira, the alpha wolf, before you can spend time with them. How can you get accepted? She must lick your face. That way you know she feels comfortable around you. She can sense when you’re afraid, she can sense when you disrespect her. I loved spending my lunch break with them. They have a little ‘house’ they can climb on and I would go on there, bring a book and the two wolves would often join me.

Two weeks was too short now that I look back at it, but those two weeks were some of my favorite weeks in my entire life.

Have you ever volunteered (with animals) before? Would you want to do something like this one day?

Please feel free to ask me any more questions in case you have ’em! Wanna read more about this incredible experience? Check out the Bloemfontein/South Africa category! And for more photos click on the Africa tab.

38 responses to “My “volunteering with wild cats” adventure

  1. Beautiful story! Volunteering abroad is one of my goals in life. I hope I can fulfill it in the future :)

  2. Gaaf!!! Ik heb er ook over nagedacht maar toch niet gaan doen. Misschien ooit nog :) xx

  3. that traveling nurse

    you are one brave girl! i love volunteering but i don’t think i can do that up close and personal with fanged and clawed animals (even if they were bred in captivity). thank you for sharing this story!

  4. How beautiful!

  5. I really loved this post, reading about your volunteer time and I watched your video on Youtube. So incredible!

  6. Whoa this is crazy! Your pics are insane. Love them! Such a cool experience besides the poop, of course.

  7. Oh my god.
    This is so beautiful! If I had the money I would love to open a sanctuary for the poor wild cats kept as pets in the US. When I retire I’d like to create one if I have the resources at that time.This looks and sounds amazing and so cheap too!

  8. This is amazing! I’ve never volunteered with animals before… I’m too scared .P but I think it’s great that you did that. I think cheetahs are so beautiful, I would love to see one so close up!


  9. They are sooooooooo beautiful! Wow, what an amazing experience! Thanks for sharing. :)

  10. Wild cats are just so beautiful <3 it looks like an incredible experience!


  11. how amazing is this! you are truly brave to be traveling and doing this kind of work:) so much respect for you!

  12. Oh, wat een leuk artikel! Ik ben echt jaloers op jou. ik zou dit ook dolgraag eens doen, maar dan in Australië ;-)

    • Dankjewel! Heel lief van je. Ohhhh lijkt me ook geweldig! Ik heb een heleboel vrijwilligers programma’s klaarstaan die ik ooit misschien eens doe, waaronder ééntje met dolfijnen in Australië! Lijkt me zo leuk.

  13. WHAAATTTTT I AM SO JEALOUS! This looks AMAZING! Lucky you!
    Randi with an i

  14. Waaaauw, jealous over here! Da’s wel once in a lifetime denk ik dan. Knap! X

  15. Wauw what a great experience! Jealous of you with the animals, love it! My love went to Africa too for 6 weeks, he still talks about it 2 months after.
    Xo W in Wonderland

  16. Amazing read. Lions are my favourite animals & working with them/wolves/cheetahs is the first thing that I want to do once I graduate (and save up money). I’ve always had this on my bucket list. So jealous you did it but really happy you had a great experience!! Beautiful pictures as well. I’m looking to go for longer than 2 weeks though. I’d love a month. Or even more if it’s possible haha ☺️

    • Ohhh yes! Do it for sure. I wanted to go for longer than two weeks but I had to make decisions because just a month after I got back from South Africa I traveled through the US for two full months. So, sadly I can’t have it all ha! Where are you planning on volunteering? Keep me updated! I’d love to hear your story.

      • What a coincidence cus that’s exactly what I want to do as well haha. And then after US, go Australia. I’m planning on going to South Africa as well, just trying to pick a reserve to go to. Weighing out the options. It’ll probably be in 6 months as I want to work after I graduate and get enough money to travel for some time :-) will do Naomi! X O

      • When you pick out a reserve definitely do some research on it because there are tons of places, especially where the main animals are lions, that eventually sell their lions when they’ve reached the mature age, to lion hunters! I wrote a post about it and you can find it here if you want to read it! Australia is incredible too, I haven’t been yet but my best friend just did a one year working holiday trip there. And yes, saving up is important. I’m excited for you and to read all about your future adventures! xx

      • I have heard about that happening so definitely conducting some serious research! I’m excited too. Next chapters of your life are always thrilling to get into. The anticipation is the best part! X O

      • Exactly! The future is exciting! xx

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