Kate on Conservation

Shamwari Diaries: Act 1, Scene 2 – Regret


This week’s Shamwari series follows my first weekend in South Africa — and my first big conservation mistake of my trip! In case you missed it, last week I re-lived my arrival at Shamwari Private Game Reserve and visited the Born Free Sanctuary for the first time, as detailed in my travel diaries from 10 years ago: Act 1, Scene 1 (First time in the wild…) can be viewed here.

Gap year learning curves…

Saturday 26th July, 2008

It’s the weekend already. With my first couple of days of work on the reserve under my belt (admittedly, it’s been a relaxed couple of work days at best), it seemed like a great chance to get to know my group. For my first day away from the reserve, I decided to visit Addo Elephant Park.

*Disclaimer: this trip was booked independently through a tour company, not through Shamwari, Born Free, or any of it’s associates.*

To make a full day of it, our excursion first included a visit to a crocodile and lion retreat, where we got to play with four 6-month old lion cubs (two boys and two girls). They were beautiful but I got battered! I have huge bruises and several cuts from their teeth and claws! But it was an unforgettable experience. We then got to handle a 1-month old lioness cub, who was adorable. 

2019 note: I had absolutely no idea that such a thing as the ‘canned hunting industry’ existed back then. The term ‘canned hunting’ or ‘bred for bullet’ refers to lions born and raised in captivity for the sole purpose of being shot for large sums of money. Cubs are ‘farmed’; snatched from their mothers at just days old — allowing her to come back into season quicker — they are hand-reared, cuddled and fed by humans so that they become accustomed to us and build a relationship of trust. As adolescents (no longer suitable to cuddle and hold) they are often used for ‘walk with lions’ experiences, before reaching adulthood, where so-called trophy hunters pay between $17,500 and $50,000 to kill them within an enclosed area, or whilst sedated — so that the kill is guaranteed. You can read more about campaigns like “Claws Out” to educate volunteers here.

We then went on to Daniell Cheetah breeding centre, where we got to stroke two small cheetah cubs and an adult cheetah who had featured in several films, including ‘Duma’, which was released about 3 years ago.

2019 Note: I have explored the connection between Daniell Cheetah Breeding Centre and the canned hunting industry in a detailed blog post here.

An hour and a half drive to reach Addo National Elephant Park. Our guide, Walter, drove along blaring out Boyzone and tons of cheesy club songs, which was hilarious and surreal when you’re driving up an African mountain!

Amazing to see the elephants interacting and to get up close to some of them! Got to touch and feed some of the elephants that were ex-captive animals I think? I’m not sure of their story.


2019 Note: Looking at Addo Lodge’s website, it’s still unclear as to the background story of these three ‘Bachelor elephants’. From my current perspective, it makes alarm bells ring! Read what the website says here

Needless to say, I look back on this day with regret at my own ignorance!

Sunday 27th July, 2008

Disappointing day, as the skydiving trip I had booked got cancelled due to high winds. I’m sure my mum would be relieved! But I won’t tell her, because I’ve re-booked for next week, and I don’t want to freak her out!

Monday 28th July, 2008

This morning we headed out to the reserve for alien plant removal, which basically meant chopping down some old, and lots of newly growing pine trees that are not native to the area, and are therefore damaging the eco-system by taking too much water and nutrients from the soil — affecting the native plant species. I managed to cut down 108 personally, which I was very proud of!


We drove to a lunch spot, on the way spotting nyala, zebra herds, red buck, water buck, baboons, warthog, etc. Our lunch spot was a gorgeous area with a large hill covered in various types of vegetation. As we were sitting down to eat, we could hear an elephant in the near distance! This meant we had to hide behind the vehicle while we ate! Luckily, it must have left in the opposite direction!

Finished the day back at Madolas lodge, where we watched a dvd of a series called ‘Big Cat Doctors’, which was filmed around the Born Free Sanctuaries.

Tuesday 29th July, 2008

Saw my first sighting of a wild lion pride this morning! Wow! Lunch over the Bushman’s River was stunning.

The afternoon brought hard, physical work, as we had to pull up old wire fencing. The reserve consists of previously acquired farmland (it’s quite spectacular, as this whole area has had to have native plants and animals brought back in, to re-create a natural ecosystem), and the wire fencing formerly used to divide the land is still in place in some areas. Which could literally mean animals can get tangled up in it!

After a short while I was able to use the wire cutters confidently, and between my group, we managed to remove a fair amount.

Wednesday 30th July, 2008

Today we drove through the reserve to see some of the bomas used to capture animals to sell to other reserves. We could see where one of the bomas had recently been dismantled, and our job was to move pieces of corrugated iron and fully separate wooden structures by tying them to a trailer at one end, and to the car at the other, driving and forcing them apart.

Next, we went to an area where a new campsite is being constructed. Here we had to pickaxe calcrete so that we could dig trenches to put fencing up in. It was hard, manual labour, but after that we got to game drive through the entire length of the southern section of the reserve and were able to track two cheetahs down on foot! It was awesome!

Cheetah by Kate on Conservation

I felt totally in awe of the fact that we were about 6 metres away from wild cheetahs with nothing in between us! I managed to get some great photos!


In the evening I went to Louis’ Bar with everyone, and agreed to do a ‘roadkill’ shot… without fully realising what I was getting into! Basically, it was two different shots, one Baileys, and a red cherry sour, poured all over the bar (like roadkill) and the drinker has to lick it up, keeping their hands behind their backs at all times! I managed to actually complete mine! (No easy feat — especially when Louis’ and his wife kept pushing our heads down and rubbing them in the shots! What a mess!!).

Follow my adventures next week as I have my first encounter with African wild dogs and actually get to jump out of a plane! Discover why I’m revisiting this time here.


EXCITING NEWS! This first post of my Shamwari Series will feature in a brand new book, The Wildlife Blog Collection: a compilation of 70 amazing stories celebrating some of the most memorable, entrancing and exciting wildlife moments as told by top nature writers from across the globe. Order your copy here

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Want to know more about the lion hunting industry?

2 thoughts on “Shamwari Diaries: Act 1, Scene 2 – Regret

  1. Hi Kate, I love reading your posts! Back in 2010 I also thought I did the right thing by volunteering in Zimbabwe ‘Walking with Lions’ at Antelope Park. Little did I know back then!
    So many volunteers are unaware about the practices that are going on. None can be blamed but we can all learn, and spread the word. Hopefully one day soon, because of you people like you who are spreading the news, making people aware, the day will be here that those scamming volunteer projects will cease to exist. Until that day however, we need blogs and articles like yours.
    Sharing is more than caring!!


    1. Thank you for your kind words Sylvie, and for reaching out and sharing your own experience. I know from first-hand experience, it can be heart-breaking when you’ve believed you were doing good or nurturing a trust and understanding with animals – only to learn you’ve been duped in the worst possible way. With increased awareness over the last few years, I’m hoping these experiences will lose their appeal to the public; but I fear there’s a long way to go (especially when I looked a trip advisor reviews of some of the places I visited that were connected to canned hunting! So many people still unsuspecting). I think there’s a long way to go until we have the Sea World / Blackfish effect, but I’m hoping that day will come.

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