There are a number of nocturnal animals in South Africa that are very difficult to see in the wild. Unless you live on a farm or are willing to pay exorbitant prices to take a night drive in a game reserve (which is actually not a problem for foreign tourists with our favourable exchange rate), your chances of seeing them are very slim. Rob and I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time out in the bush and have been on a number of game drives at night so we have seen a few of the nocturnal cats. However, it is not ideal to photograph them in the dark. It was therefore with great delight that we received a gift from family members, Mick and Jo (lookatbowen.com) of a photographic safari at Tenikwa, a local wild cat rehabilitation centre. Situated a few kilometres east of Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route, Tenikwa is about forty kilometres away from our home in Knysna.
Our tour started off with an opportunity to take a cheetah for an early morning walk. We were given instructions on how to handle the animal so as not to startle it in any way and to keep up with him if he picked up his pace. I never imagined that I would one day walk a cheetah on a lead – definitely an unusual experience for me! (Please note that cheetahs are no longer walked on leads at Tenikwa)
We’ve yet to see a Carakul in the wild, so it was great to be able to photograph this magnificent animal in a decent setting. This is the largest of the small cats and has a somewhat strange-looking body, with hind legs that are slightly longer than the front legs and a shortish tail. This is the only cat that doesn’t have any spots at all. Farmers don’t like Carakuls as they prey on livestock and can be a nuisance.
This Serval chased after a stick in a kitten-like fashion when our guide tried to get it into a position for photographs. Servals are hunted mercilessly by our indigenous folk for tribal customs and practices, which is such a shame as they are so beautiful. We couldn’t photograph the African Wild Cats, because, unlike the Serval, they were very shy and wouldn’t budge from their cosy spot in the bush (isn’t that just typical of a cat!)
The white lion is not a nocturnal animal, but it is unusual and this was a particularly beautiful young male specimen. He almost looked like he could have been the family dog – part Labrador! I must admit that a white lion is not my favourite. Rob and I love to see lions in the wild, especially the gorgeous black-maned ones that lie in the red dunes of the Kalahari. Many legends abound about the white lions though, and if these myths are to be believed, then these lions are very special. They don’t do well in the wild and will mainly be found in private reserves or rehabilitation centres.
We’re always excited to see leopards and the one at Tenikwa was very photogenic. We were grateful that our guide was able to bring him out into the open as he was fast asleep when we arrived. One can’t help feeling sorry for these animals being kept in captivity – the ideal is always for them to be able to enjoy the freedom that they were born into.
All in all a super morning enjoying God’s creatures and getting some nice photos for our collection. Thanks again, Mick and Jo, it was great!