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Tenikwa Welcome sign

Hello lovelies,

As promised, here is the breakdown of our Saturday:

Our early wake up at 05:30 meant that as we drove from Knysna through to Plettenberg Bay just after 06:00, for our Cheetah Walk at Teniqua Wildlife Sanctuary and Animal Hospital at 07:00, we were surrounded by dark grey clouds, as dawn struggled to take hold of the sky. When we arrived at Teniqua and parked, the sun finally burst through the clouds and bathed the building in light as we entered. I remember thinking that it was a glorious way to first lay eyes on this incredible place (which I highly recommend you visit if you’re touring the Garden Route).

We were warmly greeted and ushered through to the restaurant side of Tenikwa, for some much needed coffee and were entertained by the Marabou Storks at the adjacent pond, as we filled our bloodstream with caffeine. Splitting into 2 groups – one of 6 and one of 2 – Lauren and Dylan went off first to start their walk with  Duma, the largest and most dominant cheetah on-site. Before I give a quick rundown of our groups walk with Thandi and Chaka (the two sibling cheetahs) I must give you the lowdown on the cheetah walks at Tenikwa:

Cheetah Walks are part of the cheetah enrichment programme at Tenikwa, as it gives the cheetahs exercise, a chance to mark their territories, and to give visitors the opportunity to encounter these beautiful felines up close. The term ‘walk the cheetah’ is a bit misleading, as we were only allowed to take the split lead (visitors hold one leash while Tenikwa guides the other) after we were acknowledge that we were to follow the cheetahs lead, and not set our own pace.

The cheetahs set the pace, stopping, running, spraying, sniffing, and frolicking as they would as if they were in the wild  (so be prepared to jog if they sprint, and let go of the lead if they run). We were all warned not to look directly into their eyes, as this is a sign of a challenge in the wild, and that’s a challenge a human certainly won’t win if it should come down to a dominance match.

Thandi posing

Mandy Freeman, wife and co-creator of Tenikwa (her husband Len Freeman is the other co-owner, which you can read more about) came with on our group of 6’s walk with Thandi and Chaka. As we each took turns with the leads, I got to chat with her for a good long while, and she was patient and put up with my endless questions, as I tried to desperately memorize her informative and passionate answers. I was thrilled when I got to take Thandi’s lead alongside Msizi, the guide. She glanced up at me, and I felt a lightning bold of adrenaline and joy, (surprisingly, no fear) when her tawny eyes met mine, I had an overwhelming urge to stretch out my arms and hug her, but that likely wouldn’t have gone over well, so I resisted. She held my gaze as she lazily yawned and continued on wards, leaving me with a thudding heart as I walked alongside her, the overview warning of not looking into their eyes ringing in my mind. It seemed I wasn’t a threat after all, and was filled with delight as she sniffed at various bushes and trees as we continued on our trail. Msizi chatted easily with me, explaining certain behaviours. He noted that if Thandi had been in the wild, any cubs she may have had would likely have died. When I quizzed him as to why, he replied that it was because she was missing the tell-tale white tail-tip that female cheetahs have. In the wild, cheetah cubs follow the white tail-tip of their mother through the long grass, and without this guiding tip, the cubs would get lost and starve to death. I was saddened as I began to think of how many cheetah cubs die in the wild when mothers lack this normal genetic trait like Thandi does, which is due to the cheetah’s dwindling population being forced to inbreed.

Posing with Mzisi and Thandi

I quickly cheered again as Thandi flopped over to pose for photographs, and when she started to purr, as I reverently stroked her soft fur. The sound was loud and reverberated throughout my entire body, giving me a heart-warming glow that is hard to describe (actually, remember what falling in love feels like? Yup, that was the feeling)!

After the indescribably personal walk with the cheetah siblings we went back to their enclosure to watch them enjoy their breakfast, before they gracefully slunk off further into their enclosure for a well-deserved nap.

Thandi and Chaka resting

You can read my thoughts about the Tenikwa Wildlife Centre and Animal Hospital here, but needless to say it was informative, heart-wrenching, inspiring, and definitely made an impact on each of us. I have a full appreciation of the hard work and passion the Tenikwa staff have for the animals in their care, and a deeper understanding of why my father once considered becoming a game ranger.

A big thank you to Lara Mostert, from Birds of Eden and Monkeyland, as well as Stephanie Shobree for being superstars and helping our content team organise our itinerary so we could fit everything in, and still remain on-time.

Keep reading about our Saturday adventures, and let me know what you think about Tenikwa Wildlife Center and cheetah walks!

Until next time,
Daughter of Dreams

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