Kate on Conservation

Shamwari Diaries: Act 3 Scene 5 – The winds of change


In this week’s Shamwari series I encounter storms and forest fires, and ignorantly make my second big animal welfare mistake of the trip. This comes after a week in which the escaped leopard made its presence known, and we began a major re-planting operation; you can read all about that in the previous Shamwari Diaries post: Act 3, Scene 4 – New life. Or, you can read the series from the very beginning here.

Please note: I’ve published these diaries from 2008 as true to the original entries as possible. Where my knowledge or attitudes have changed, or where I no longer endorse a certain behaviour, I’ve added in additional notes.


Saturday 13th September 2008

A long, tiring day, but it was absolutely fantastic. We went to a place in Plettenberg Bay called Tenikwa*, which is a wild fowl and wild cat conservation centre. 

A serval at Tenikwa

2019 note: Retrospectively, I’m unsure what the term ‘conservation centre’ really means. I have since examined the role of Tenikwa on this blog, and the ethics of the wildlife encounters it offers. You can read that here.

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

Before going into the grounds of Tenikwa, we stopped off at Monkeyland again, to get some lunch — and we were attracting monkeys from all angles. Steph even had some food stolen from her plate!

In the end, some of the staff members had to stand by our table with a bottle of water and squirt the primates whenever they came near.

Afterwards, we headed to Tenikwa to have a guided tour of their enclosures, during which we got to play with cheetah cubs and stroked caracal, serval and African wild cats (including black-footed cats).

African black-footed wild cat

2019 note: I had absolutely no idea that such a thing as the ‘canned hunting industry’ existed back then (You can learn more about what this means in the short documentary; Claws Out).

The term ‘canned hunting’ or ‘bred for the bullet’ refers to predators (usually lions) born and raised in captivity to be 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 predators’ experiences, before reaching adulthood, where so-called trophy hunters pay to kill them within an enclosed area, or whilst sedated — so that the kill is guaranteed. In recent years it has been reported that cheetahs are the ‘new lion’ in this cruel industry.

After the tour, we went on a sunset walk with the cheetahs, where they were put on harnesses and leads, and we were given the opportunity to walk them up to a quarry, where they were let off an able to run around freely for a while. 

It seemed like a well run place, at least giving the animals (which have all been born in zoos and other forms of captivity, and therefore unsuitable to be released in the wild) the freedom to get out of their enclosures and run around. It was much nicer than a zoo atmosphere.

A change in the weather

Sunday 14th September 2008

A Sunday spent at Madolas student lodge. Largely, the day was dedicated to doing all of my packing, ready to move to Amakhala Game Reserve first thing on Tuesday morning, and to sorting out my photos so that they will all be on disk by the time I move.

Annoyingly, the electricity kept cutting out, during this already lengthy process of downloading and saving the images — because there have been huge storms throughout the day with lots of thunder and lightening.

Grounds of Madolas Lodge, muddy after rainfall

It was quite exciting really (I do love a storm!) and it’s a good job it did rain really, as there hasn’t been any rain out here at all for the last five weeks, which has meant there have been quite a few wild fires around the area.

Yesterday, when we were driving back from Plettenberg Bay, there were miles and miles of burning trees — not huge roaring flames or anything, but glowing, smouldering embers absolutely covering the trees.

Driving passed smouldering trees

It was really strange to see, and really quite sad too. So it’s a good job that it did rain today.

The winds of change

Monday 15th September 2008

This morning I said goodbye to Steph, who’s reached the end of her 6-week stay. She’s been my roommate for the majority of my time here so far, and I will miss her terribly.

Steph and I, whale-watching in earlier times

The rest of us — now a group of four —got to spend the morning walking up to dangerous game, to experience the things that some of the guests purely on safari might experience.

Firstly, we approached three rhinos on foot; there was an adult male, a mother and a calf that appeared to be around a year old. 

We got within 15 metres of them, but were deep into the thicket, so there were lots of bushes between us. The rhinos became quite nervous as a result, as they couldn’t identify what we were through the foliage, and kept moving on. Naturally, we stopped pursuing them as a result.

A view of a male rhinoceros on our walking safari, before it retreated into the thicket

We also managed to find the southern male cheetah during our hike. He’s incredibly easy to identify, as he’s blind in one eye.

Posing no threat to one another, we were able to stop and observe for some time, from a relatively close distance.

With student leader, Jaco’s, interest in ancient bush paintings, the hike turned into rock climbing, in the search for more undiscovered cave paintings. We found a few markings, but nothing significant, unfortunately.

Ended the day with a game drive, where we encountered a small herd of elephants. I watched the strong, but weary looking bull for a long time. Utterly captivating.

Next time: I say goodbye to Shamwari and move to neighbouring Amakhala Game Reserve, where I learn the ropes of volunteer duties on a relatively new reserve. You can read the series from the very beginning here.


HAVE YOU HEARD?! The first post of my Shamwari Series features in a 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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