Tag Archives: africa

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.

Goodbye 2014, you were everything & more

The past year has easily been the best year of my life. I know I’ve said this before but 2014 has won by far. It’s been a fast one, an exhausting one, a heartbreaking one, but the best one.

  • I finally graduated college in 2014
  • In March I decided to fly to South Africa for a few weeks and volunteer with wild cats. Upon arriving at Cheetah Experience in Bloemfontein I knew I had made the right decision. I don’t think I realized back when I was there what an impact those weeks had on my life until I was back home and let it all sink in. Even today when I look back at photos I am still grateful I made that decision because it changed my life. (I also made a little video about that experience if you want to check it out, click here)
  • I ended up spending May & June in the USA and traveling all around. I met some of the best people, saw some of the most beautiful sights & reunited with old friends. America never fails to amaze me. I lost my heart there when I was 16 and I am still madly in love with the country. I still have to visit plenty of states and I really am trying to move out there as soon as possible. Words can’t express the views we saw while driving down the pacific coast highway.
  • I flew to Madrid in September for a couple of days because I didn’t have any plans that week and I wanted to go see Real Madrid play. I booked a flight & hotel and went on a solo-mini vacation. I needed those couple of days to clear my head, be by myself and see some new sights.
  • I went back to North America in October because I just can’t stay away for too long. I had the most incredible days in New York, Los Angeles, Big Bear & Toronto and realized once again how great life can be. I met up with one of my oldest friends in Toronto & met new friends for life.
  • Not too long ago I was in the UK for a little and that trip worn me out, I got really sick and don’t get me wrong, I had an incredible time with some of the best people I know but 2014 has been going on non stop. I am currently enjoying some much needed time off while I figure out what I want to do next, where I want to go and where I’ll be moving to.

Things I’ve learned in 2014

(1) I’ve learned that sometimes you outgrow people and that’s totally okay. (2) I learned that just because something is fucked up right now, doesn’t mean you have to stop trying. (3) I’ve learned that becoming your own best friend will make life easier. (4) I’ve learned that some people will just use you and you will get absolutely nothing in return. (5) I’ve learned that friendships can be one-sided and that’s painful and rough but friendships can also outlast the longest distances. (6) I’ve learned that social media can totally screw up your confidence, but we shouldn’t allow such a silly thing to do so. (7) I’ve learned that you will ALWAYS be okay, maybe not right now but eventually you will be.

2014 had some downs but mostly only ups because I decided I was going to make it a wonderful year. Changing my mindset to a positive one made me realize that we are responsible for our own happiness. If you don’t like the way something is going, change it and if you can’t change whatever bothers you or makes you unhappy, let it go. Being negative about a situation won’t change that situation. It will make you upset and sad. Staying positive really is the key to a happier life. I have no clue how 2015 will be but I am determined to make it.. the best year yet.

boyhoodquote(quote © Boyhood) xoxo -N