Just like in some kind of fairy tale dream we awaken to our first beautiful African Sunrise and what a gorgeous day it looks like it’s going to be . After being soo exhausted from our flights we all had a great nights sleep so we can start our 2 week adventure fresh and ready to roll .
As we knew we wouldn’t be departing Durban until about 9am we got the chance to have a lie in before settling down for our first breakfast together as a team , some fruit , cereal , toast and juice gets us fuelled up ready for the day ahead .
9am rolls around and we are all packed up and eager to get started but our transport is running a little late so Ben decides to teach us some of his Brainteaser games .. One was about Horses where he taps on his legs and asks us how many horses went running past another where he points out a triangle shape and asks us who’s triangle it is and the Gate game where he makes open and closed gate gestures and asks us whether his final gate gesture is open or closed .. NONE OF IT MAKES SENSE !! Argghhh !! lol
A couple of us catch on to a few of the games in the end but have been sworn to secrecy by Ben to not tell the others until they know .. he said it’ll be funny watching everyone get wound up ! lol . We also saw our first Vervet Monkey which was playing around in the trees at the backpackers .. it’s soo strange that they just play around in the middle of the cities .
Finally our transport arrives so we load up and head out on the road to our first stop which is about 3 hours away up the coast .. I suppose now we can let you in on our little surprise !! Our first stop will be at Emdoneni Cat Rehabilitation Project which is an NGO that cares for African Cat species that either can’t be released due to specific reasons or rehabilitate and release ones that are still wild enough to be able to survive . We also caught our first glimpses of Impala , Zebra and male and female Nyalas .
We meet our guide Zee who gives us a quick briefing on what to expect during our experience . He explains about what the program actually does and how we should act and behave when we are in the pens with the different species of cats . Entering through the gate he sprays us with what he says is a mixture of disinfectant and cat pee ( so the cats won’t get freaked out ) but we think he was pulling our leg .. or at least hope he was :/ .
Our first stop was to meet the Servals which is which is now protected under the threatened and protected species act . They are such elegant looking felines but number shave declined a lot lately they even fall prey to some of Africa’s largest Eagle species like the Martial Eagle .. this is why the Servals have big white dots on the back on their ears which act like eyes so it looks like they are always watching to potential prey . We even got the chance to pet one of the them called Matuba which means “ fat” .. awww .
Next up was the African Wild Cat which from a distance looks like any normal house cat but up close you can see slight differences like the larger size of the actual cat , the longer leg structure and the tail . These animals are also becoming extremely rare in the wild mainly because of interbreeding with domestic cats which messes with the gene pool . Unfortunately we didn’t really get a chance to interact with them as the female has just had kittens which they hope to keep away from human interaction in order to be able to release them back into the wild again .
The penultimate pen was with the Caracals and these are magnificent looking creatures which look similar to a kind of Cougar mainly because of the ears … and apparently the largest recorded jump by a Caracal was 6 metres !! WHAT !! Also if you put a Caracal up against a Lion pound for pound the Lion would not stand a chance .. incredible ! Some of us got the opportunity to stroke and pet Diego but he seemed on a mission doing his own thing .
It was awesome to learn about all the feeding and mating habits , distribution of the cats , species specific habits , social structures , gestation periods , litter sizes , gender differences . Amazing how much you can learn in such a short space of time and Zee was very knowledgeable about everything .
Then … time for the main attraction … the CHEETAHS !!! :p Is he actually going to let us go into the pen with them ..??!! UNREAL !! The 2 Cheetahs in the pen are brothers Moya and Juba and have been looked after by the program for a few years now and have become to immersed with human contact to be able to be released into the wild again and so will spend the rest of their lives here unfortunately . This is why the project uses them for educational purposes as they love the interaction .
They seemed soo relaxed around us which made it very easy for us to be able to interact with them , we were asked to stay around the head area so they knew exactly where we were and pet them around the head and ears and even down their back just like a normal cat .. but what an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity . Zee then mentioned if we placed out hands in front of their mouths they would lick us and who is going to say no to that ..!! haha . Eish we now know how the strip the flesh off of bones , their tongues are like sand paper .. soo coarse .
Because they were soo relaxed we all got the opportunity to spend time with the Cheetahs but it was very hard leaving the pen as we could have spent the whole day here just chilling with them . But Zee had one little surprise left for us . He asked if anyone of us could run … hmm sounded very sceptical but Sarah was brave enough to step up ! He gave her a small stick with some red rope on the end and asked her to run around in the females pen so that we could see how playful she was .
After a wonderful 90 minutes it was time to finish our first activity but if the rest of the program is going to be as good as today was then we will be ecstatic !! After a spot of lunch and meeting our other guide for the next 2 weeks Bertie we begin the next leg of our journey up to the game reserve . On the way we stop off briefly to pick up some supplies and snacks for the next few days before the last stint .
Somkhanda game reserve was established in 2008 and the land used to be used by the locals but they were forced off during Apartheid times and the land was taken over by white farmers .. Now Apartheid has come to an end the government brought in the Land Reclaim Act so the locals have claimed the land back and approached a few wildlife organisations to help them run the reserve for them for the benefit of the community .
Our accommodation for the next week will be in tents in the middle of the reserve with basic toilet and shower facilities as they are going through a very bad drought at the minute so water usage must be kept to a minimum . After pairing up and getting settled into our tents we make our way down to the lodge to meet up with Oompile who will be our main guide for the week ahead .
He gives us a briefing on how the reserve got started and their aims and objectives for the near future before going into more detail about what activities we will be participating in during our time here and running through a few of the Do’s and Don’ts on the reserve especially with regards to the game life and how to act and behave around them for our own safety . What we will be doing we will leave as a secret so that you keep following our daily blogs to see what we get up to .
As darkness set in we settled down for our evening meal which was definitely needed and it gave us another chance to sit down and have a chat with everyone and strengthen the bonds we have already made .
Well I think you’ve probably just about had enough of us for the day lol so we shall bid you good night from underneath these magnificent starlit skies .
Until tomorrow .