Tag Archives: south 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.

10 places I still want to visit and why

1. Sydney, Australia
I’ve been wanting to visit Australia in general for the longest time, the beaches, the culture, the people, the accents, .. I can go on and on about why I need to visit Australia before I die.

2. Maldives, Asia
I saw a photo of this resort called the “Taj Exotica Resort & Spa” a few years ago and ever since I can’t get it out of my head. It looks so peaceful and beautiful. Every now and then I go on their website and check rates and then realize I will have to come back another day. It’s stunning and mind-blowing, judge for yourself.

taj exotica resort & spa, malediven
© Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces

3. Niagara Falls, New York (USA)/Ontario (Canada)
Stunning waterfalls, especially when they’re frozen. I think it’s one of those places you just have to see for yourself to understand the beauty of it.

niagara falls
© Niagara Falls Ontario Tourism facebook page

4. Grand Canyon National Park, USA
I’ve tried to visit this magical place for so long and I always seem to miss out on it. I can’t put into words how much I want to visit the Grand Canyon. It looks endless and it’s one of those places I think you visit and you just leave a little piece of you behind. I can’t wait to spend hours sitting there, reading a book and enjoying the view, in the future.

5. Vancouver Island, Canada
I am madly, utterly in love with killer whales and whales/wild life in general. I am 100% against Sea World and as much as I would love to see a killer whale I refuse to ever set foot there, so I’ll have to do it a little differently and actually visit their home. Vancouver Island is well known for its wildlife and if you take a boat tour there you’re 99% sure you’ll see them.

© Vancouver Island Travel

6. Verona, Italy
Okay I must admit, I am a huge Romeo & Juliet fan and that is one of the reasons why I want to visit Verona. But the biggest reason is because I watched a movie situated in Verona and I was fascinated by the style, the people, the way it looked, just everything. One day I picture myself eating pasta and drinking wine in a tiny, authentic Italian restaurant in Verona.

7. Great Wall of China, China
Super cliché, but once again one of those places you just HAVE to visit before you die. Eventually I want to visit all seven wonders of the world (I already crossed one of the list, the Redeemer in Rio) and the Great Wall of China is one of my favorites.

8. Puerto Rico, USA
I’ve been wanting to learn how to surf ever since I discovered surfing, ha ha, and Puerto Rico looks like the perfect place. I’m convinced Puerto Rico has tons of other perfect things and magical places you need to visit & do but surfing there is number one on my list.

9. Northern Lights, Norway
According to surveys and studies the Northern Lights is the number one thing on people’s bucket lists. And can you blame us? It looks absolutely magical. All you need is fly to Norway, get a blanket, find a good spot and enjoy the view.

10. Kruger National Park, South Africa
Again, I love animals, a lot. And while volunteering in Africa tons of other volunteers recommended the Kruger Park in South Africa. There are several things/tours you can do, you can rent a car yourself, you can join a tour and stay at hotels and more. I guess you just have to find the perfect tour for you and see how long you wanna stay in Kruger Park, surrounded by wild animals, including the big five! It’s a seven hour drive from Johannesburg, the main airport in mid South Africa.

I hope I inspired some of you to travel and explore! Have you been to one of the places mentioned? Any tips or advice you can give me?

xoxo -N

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

Petting Zoo, walking with lions & Canned Lion Hunting

So I don’t know how many of you are familiar with a petting zoo? It’s literally what the word says, a zoo where you can pet & interact with animals. But in this case you’re petting lion cubs. It all seems really innocent and great (google “lion petting” and you’ll find the most adorable photos) but it’s not as innocent and great as it may seem like.

The cubs used for interaction with visitors are taken away from their moms at a very early stage in their lives. Every. Single. Cub. that’s used for petting. You can’t leave a little lion with their mom for too long or it’ll take over the (natural) instincts and you won’t be able to leave the cub with inexperienced visitors. That alone is already an awful thing to know. Why in the world would you take away a baby from their mother? Both animals are really stressed out because of this and if this wasn’t sad enough, the moms are forced to breed again soon after they are separated from their cub. In the wild they reproduce every 2, 3 years. Now they’re having cubs 2 to 3 times a YEAR.

The cubs are hand-raised by humans, mostly volunteers from all over the world, so that they’re used to human interaction before even getting in touch with visitors. These volunteers often have or had NO idea what was going on “behind the scenes”. While growing up they’re in constant contact with people. Whether it’s the huge amount of visitors taking endless photos or the volunteers feeding the cubs. The petting zoos are actually also just breeding zoos and breeding an endangered animal (yes the African lion is endangered) is not necessarily a bad thing, unless you’re planning on killing it anyway.

When the cubs are too big to pet them, they’re often used for “walks”. It doesn’t matter whether they feel like walking or not, they are taken out for walks every single day. It’s a business.

When eventually the lions are too big for interaction with humans at all and they’re too old to walk they often get send back to their farmers. They continue their miserable lives with far too many lions in a far too small space.

When it’s finally time for the “hunters” to shoot & kill the lions, they are first “released” into a bigger area where they can roam “freely”. The hunters eventually drive up slowly to a lion near by. They see the lion, the lion thinks it might get food (sound of car/human) and doesn’t run away or come closer in an aggressive way. The “hunter” waits for the right time and shoots the lion in the foot/leg. And the lion bleeds to death. It’s a very slow & painful death because they can’t shoot the lion in the heart because that will ruin their trophy. After they successfully shoot the lion they pose next to their trophy and smile. I can’t even call them hunters & quoting an article from the Guardian: “There is no hunting involved here; it is just cold blooded slaughter of a tame animal.” – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2014/mar/11/canned-hunting-white-lions-despicable

I am NOT saying all lion cubs from petting zoos in South Africa end up being shot, but there’s a 90% chance they will. Purely because they can’t keep all the lions they breed and they also can’t use them as a tourist attraction anymore because they’re too big, too strong & too old. It’s a huge problem in South Africa because it’s still very legal there and it absolutely breaks my heart.

If you would like to read more about this, please go visit http://www.cannedlion.org

Footage from Cheetah Experience + more photos!

I made a short video of some footage I shot while I was volunteering and uploaded it onto Youtube, I hope you like it!

In the meantime I also added more photos of my amazing 2 weeks, click on the photo below and make sure to check ’em out :)

(how do you like my incredible, mind-blowing sunburn?)

xo naomi

Photo update from Bloemfontein, South Africa

Time flies when you’re having fun right? I got home yesterday after an extremely long travel day! Been catching up with my mom & sister and I found the time to upload some photos. It’s so hard to make a selection and I haven’t received all the photos yet, but I wanted to share some of my favorite ones with you already! Click on the photo below and I hope you like ’em!

xo naomi

Leaving South Africa for Europe today!

Today is our last day in Bloemfontein, we are leaving later today to catch our flight back to Johannesburg and then at 11pm we will be on our way to Amsterdam! We have yet another 11 hour flight coming up with KLM which I’m not looking forward to, but we worked 13 out of 14 days so its safe to say we’re exhausted! Sleep, give me all the sleep.

The past couple of days have been a lot of fun! I got to spend some more time with the animals. Yesterday I was trying to nap in one of the bigger camps and 3 cheetahs (Faith, Dew & Eden) decided to join us.

Saying goodbye will be rough, I wish I could take the wolves, Orion (baby leopard) and the two baby cheetahs (hope and horizon) home with me! Today we don’t have to work so were definitely taking our time.

I have got some amazing photos on my camera, I can’t wait to share the best of them with everyone!

That’s pretty much it for now. Thank you Africa for the memories.

xo naomi

Last couple of days in South Africa with my wild animals

The past week has been interesting to say the least! We seem to be having a bit more free time so I’ve been able to spend some time with the 3 month old cheetah cubs, Hope & Horizon. I also tried to spend as much time as possible with Orion.

We had our day off yesterday, long story short, we expected more of it since we had planned so much. But we just ended up being tricked by taxi prices and that ruined a lot. Last night another horror taxi moment happened (we had to wait over an hour for one we ordered!) (talk about shitty service). But we are all still alive.

The one thing that still blows my mind is how cheap everything here is, especially the food! We had a pretty nice lunch at the mall, all 3 of us had a glass of rosé wine and we all had a meal. We paid a total of 280ZAR if I’m correct, which is not even 20 euros! C’mon, crazy right?

Our last 3 days here will be bittersweet. My cousin & I are both super tired but we love the animals so much so it’s definitely a mixed feeling.

And that’s pretty much it! I can’t wait to show you guys tons of photos!

xo naomi


Tours and my wolves!

What a LONG day, I know I say this every day and I am being very repetitive but seriously. We went out to an African bar last night, which was so much fun. We had a nice little meal and then had a few drinks. I’d never ever call it a night at 10pm but my alarm would go off at 6am again so I had to make a rough, grown up & mature decision. Lame.

We did a lot of cleaning today since yesterday was big feed (which means we feed the bigger animals, who get fed every other day). I also shadowed a tour with a lot of kids which means I was helping the guide do the tour. Having kids around is always tricky cause most of the animals get really nervous, are anxious and might just see the mini humans as new toys.

My heart pooped a little while I was checking the fences in the wolves enclosure. We don’t let visitors in with our wolves because a lot of new, unknown people make them nervous and they really need to know who you are and feel comfortable around you. But getting back to the story, while I was checking the fences, a tour was happening and none of the wolves seemed to care to show their faces. I called Shakira and she came straight away. While she was standing close enough for the guests to take photos I kind of wanted to get out of the shot for the visitors, as soon as I moved a little, Shakira just followed me. It’s safe to say my plan failed. But my heart swooned and that day I swore I would get a couple rescued wolves when I live on a huge property, one day.

Tomorrow will yet again be another busy day filled with some of the most gorgeous animals in this world.

xo naomi

Orion and feeding!

Today was yet another long but fun day! My favorite moment was walking with the baby leopard Orion, who’s 5 months old. He loves to bite anything and everything and his claws are incredibly strong for such a small body. We try to interact with him so he gets used to visitors, I don’t know the full background story on him as in why he’s here, but he’s a ladies man. His eyes are GORGEOUS.

One of my favorite things to do is feeding the animals. It’s interesting to see how we sometimes don’t see them all day (like two of our lions, who stay far in their enclosures) but as soon as they KNOW they get fed they are running to their feeding camps.

I now also have a confirmed sun allergy. It doesn’t hurt but I can’t stay out in the sun for too long, so it does suck.

Tomorrow might be my favorite day yet. I get to start my day off with checking the fences which is fun since its a huge walk around the park. I also have to observe the animals while doing that. Then I get to babysit little Orion and then I’ll be working tours. I hope I get to spend some time afterwards with my favorites, Shakira & Nikita!

xo naomi