As I sit before Neptune, a magnificent male white lion, I look around at my surroundings and can’t help but think of the opening sentence from the book “Out Of Africa”…
‘I once had a farm in Africa’.
It makes me think of all the past, present, and future staff members and volunteers who will forever have such wonderful, inspiring stories to tell for years to come. Stories of walking around the tigers’ enclosure only to be joined by Bella, a female Bengal tiger who loves the company of people. Stories of being filled with joy when you watched the animals have the time of their lives with the enrichment YOU helped make for them. Stories of not needing an alarm clock, because you have the roars of lions to wake you up in the morning (and lull you to sleep at night!). Stories of meeting new friends from all over the world, friends you would never have come across had it not been for Panthera Africa.
Cat and Lizaene, the two owners of the sanctuary, are two of the most sincere, devoted and caring people I have ever met. I am truly in awe of all they have achieved so far, and will go on to achieve in the future. They have completely dedicated their lives to the animals who live here at the Sanctuary, and also to the other animals out there who still, very desperately, need help.
As soon as I arrived almost three weeks ago, I could see that each animal has his or her own unique personality. They are all incredibly sweet, but I was instantly drawn to Neptune. Not only is he beautiful to look at (they all are!) with his thick white mane, handsome face, and incredibly wise eyes, he is also a very intelligent, funny lion. He makes me smile every day, whether it’s by rolling around lazily in the sun, carrying his enrichment off proudly with his head held high, or by the way he calls very gently and quietly for his treats. When you look into Neptune’s eyes, you can see that he has a very intelligent and caring soul.
The thing I love the most about Neptune, however, is his loyalty. Neptune has been with Lizaene for his entire life, and it is so easy to see that he completely and utterly adores her. He will wait for her by the side of his enclosure when he knows that she is coming to see him, and at that point it would be almost impossible to distract him. Lizaene is his best friend, and I love how clear it is for everyone to see that, while Neptune enjoys the company of others, Lizaene is his one and only.
I thank my lucky stars every night that I have been given the opportunity to be at Panthera Africa. Everyone here is so welcoming and friendly, it’s like being part of a big family. Evenings together after work are filled with fun and laughter. And while the African sun sets behind the mountains, I can feel my heart say
“I am at home, here on this farm in Africa.”
Lynsey – August 2015
It has been three months since my beautiful animals have arrived and somehow it still seems unreal. I see them, I hear them, I feed them and I take care of them, but it still feels like a dream.
Before starting on the Panthera Africa journey I worked with and saw my animal nearly 364 days of the year for 5 years, and all of a sudden I was left seeing them an hour a day maybe 5 days a month, or even every second month. Although I knew we would be reunited, this was just the worst and most heart breaking months ever. I often found myself crying or exploding in anger for no reason. I often found myself longing for them to the point that I felt time is standing still. Everyday I thought of them and everyday I prayed that we would be reunited and that they knew how much I loved them. It has been a hard year and a half from leaving the previous project where my passion started, searching for a perfect piece of land, going for weeks without seeing my animals. In addition we started with the testing and nerve wrecking approvals and through all of this I needed to find the energy and inspiration somewhere. There were many ups and downs, and some days I asked myself: “what the hell are you doing? Have you gone stark raving mad thinking you can setup a sanctuary?” On these days Cat would buy me a bus ticket to Bloemfontein to visit the animals and as soon as I saw there faces – I knew why and for who I am doing this. Everytime I saw my lion boys eyes and heard their roars, my energy and inspiration exploded!! These animals are my life and they have changed me in a way I never knew possible.
Writing my blog outside lala(Pardus), our black leopard’s enclosure, I look at her and the tears start to flow. She is here, she is realy here!! I can walk outside everyday and see her beautiful rosettes and see her climb her tree like a monkey. I look outside my bedroom window and see all my animals happily resting on their hobbit houses. I start my tours introducing our tigers, and Raise chuffs gently. I drink coffee and watch the sunset with my soulmate, Neptune and end of my day breathing in deep as my lion boys roar so close that I feel the vibration in my heart and body.
People say that we have saved these animals, but in fact THEY HAVE SAVED ME!!
I read an inspirational piece at breakfast this morning and it triggered something inside me. Often we find ourselves on auto pilot and just surviving through another day because that is life, but STOP, breath, feel, think and…
LET NOTHING HOLD YOU BACK:
Go forward with your shoulders back, with your head high, and with a smile. With your enthusiastic spirit, perseverance, and integrity of character, put your intelligence, talents, and passion into action.
Never let setbacks excuse you from trying again. It often takes many attempts to be a success.
Never let negative people influence you or direct what you do. Always face forward and see your whole life shining bright for you. Never let go of your character, ideals, or activism for the good of this world.
Never let go of the passion that inspire you, guide you, and always smile on you. These passions will lead you to reach your fullest potential. Hold on to them, and they will keep you honest, caring, kind, and generous with the finest gifts your heart can give. – Jacqueline Schiff –
Love and light,
– June 2015 –
Mhh, what a nice morning it is today. After all this rain and wind it’s finally quiet. Where is Pardus? She must be in our tree, waiting for sunrise. I should probably get up as well. I have to walk my round and see, if everything in the enclosure is alright. But first, some morning stretching. Oh yes, that’s it. Way better.
Before I start, I should say hi to Pardus “Good morning, honey. I’m doing my round now.” Alright, the grasses and bushes seem fine. But some more marking is never wrong. Let’s move on to the swing and tunnel. Oh I definitely need to mark the tunnel again. How are the other animals supposed to know that it’s mine, if it doesn’t smell like me? Ok, how is my tree? It looks like yesterday. But does it smell like yesterday too? Yes it does, awesome morning. Everything seems good and it’s a beautiful sunrise. I will watch it fro m my platform. Climbing is a good exercise as well. I have to get these muscles working.
I’m getting better and better. I made it up in no time. Ahh, I’m such a great Leopard. And I’m so good looking too. But enough of that, I have to investigate the neighbors. Ok nothing special this morning. Everyone is still in their enclosures. But wait, I hear something. It’s the bucky. That’s always interesting; I wonder what the humans have on the back today. What’s that? I smell meat. It must be feeding day. Awesome news, I have to get down this tree and go to the fence. I love feeding days, I can eat, relax and I get attention. I really would say feeding days are my favorite days. Cat, Lizaene, Andreas and all the volunteers are always so nice to us. We must be something really special to them. They do so much and we don’t have to do anything for them. I hope they can see how much I love them too.
But why are they always feeding the lions first. Come on, throw that leg over here. I’m hungry. Ohh, there it comes…Yeah, I got it. Let me just make sure, that Pardus has the smaller piece. Yes she has, now I can eat in peace.
That was a nice breakfast. I will save the rest for later. It’s probably the best, if I have a nap. Time to go back on my platform…
…Oh that was a great nap. I should have some more bites of that leg for lunch. I love my life. I think I should have another nap. Considering the heat it’s probably for the best…
…Oh look at that, humans are watching me. It must be tour time. Yeah, I know I’m pretty. “Hey guys, do you see these muscles? Are you here to see how strong I am?” I should get down and pose a little bit. Yes, feel free to take photos of me and my girlfriend. That’s my favorite rosette by the way.
Oh hey, they’re throwing a red ball in here. Pardus seems to like it. She loves to play and she’s always so active. I’m so lucky, that she loves me like I am. I’m not that much into playing with that ball, so I will walk some more rounds to check my territory and do some marking. That should be enough work for one day.
Tim – June 2015
I felt it as soon as I arrived…the passion, the dedication, the commitment and the pure love that the founders Lizaene & Cathrine have for their project and their animals. As two ex volunteers themselves, it was a refreshing change for me, a full time volunteer for 2 years now, to feel so valued and respected as a contributor to the project and also to the ’cause’. The ’cause’ being the education of the volunteers and the public to be fully aware of the constant challenges on all levels facing big cats in Africa today, both in captivity and in the Wild.
I had come here based on a search for a truly ethical sanctuary, and also on a very strong gut instinct, initially inspired by the blog I had read on the Panthera Africa website, written by Cathrine, and detailing the trials and tribulations that had faced them setting this place up. I felt that anyone who had gone through all that blood, sweat and tears, and not only still be standing strong but also smiling at the end of it all, was everything I believed that a true santuary should represent, and that the ladies involved had real lions hearts.
The animals here will take your breath away with their beauty and uniqueness, and their stories can fill you both with sadness and also pure joy, knowing that despite their often poor start in life they now live in a forever home, safe and sound, full of kindness and love. An animals eyes have the power to speak a great language to those who want to listen, and the animals here all tell a story of hope and inspiration, not only for them but for their future generations also.
For me, being around the lions and especially the spiritual white lions, makes me feel like I am in the presence of greatness, yet also like I am finally home with my fellow Leo’s. Their magnificence is astounding for those who wish see it. Lion symbolism is used in cities all over the world to portray raw power and courage, strength and pride and that is exactly what they were born to be and represent, regardless of their beginning in life.
And all these animals now, thanks to Panthera Africa, have a happy ending filled with multiple layers of love from everyone involved here… the many nationlites of volunteers who come to help, the public who come to visit and learn, the people who donate, the wonderful farm worker Joseph, and in particular the girls who made it all happen, Lizaene and Cathrine.
A true big cat sanctury.
Suzanne Scott – June 2015
I knew Zorro when he was younger; I spent three months with him at a previous project. To be completely honest – I came for the cheetahs that were there, but I gave my heart to this gentle, beautiful guy. I had never before had anything to do with leopards, so the only knowledge I had about the species was mainly from the internet, where they seem to be big, unpredictable hunters. Not something that I thought of as “cute”. So I was very surprised that this species turned out to be “mine”.
It’s been one and a half years since I’ve seen my boy. During this time I’ve thought about Zorro a lot – known that a big part of my heart was left behind in South Africa. But it wasn’t until I came to volunteer at Panthera Africa, and Cat and Lizaene showed us around on the property, and when I caught a glimpse of him that I realized exactly how much I’d missed him. I could not keep my attention on the tigers that Cat or Liz was telling us about, and I got surprisingly emotional. It was kind of embarrassing, especially because I had not expected such a big reaction, but Cat, Lizaene and the other volunteers understood completely.
At the last project I was allowed interaction with Zorro and Pardus, and there is nothing I miss more than being able to give Zorro a big hug and a good scratch… But seeing how happy he is with Lala in their new enclosure, with a giant tree to climb – I think they are happier without the stream of volunteers coming through but never staying for longer then a couple of weeks or a couple of months.
I’ve only got a couple of weeks left here at Panthera Africa, and I know that saying goodbye to all the animals, especially Zorro, is going to be extremely hard – but I know that every single cat on the property is happy and well, which is going to give me peace when my time to leave comes.
Lilo – June 2015
We arrived here about 3 weeks ago, unaware of what we had let ourselves into. We weren’t sure of what kind of labor we would do or how we would “connect” with the animals.
I will always remember our first working day here. We were killing some “Port Jacksons” (weeds), later we were headed to the house for lunch. I fell a bit behind, as I was fascinated by the lions in one of the enclosures. I walked a bit more to see the lions more up and close. One of the lions rose up and started walking beside me on the other side of the fence. This was my first meeting with one of the many predators. The huge lion and I walked together for a few meters and as the walkway was coming to an end, I turned around and he followed.
The feeling there and then was remarkable and indescribable. You just have to experience it yourself to know what feeling it is to have a lion walk beside you.
Being here at Panthera Africa has been the trip of our lives. Being so close to all these beautiful predators and get to know their personalities is so amazing. And lets not forget the people, the other volunteers and of course the owners Lizaene and Cathrine. Liz and Cat are some of the warmest people you can meet, they do everything on the farm with a great passion, and in all interest of the animals. They greet you the day you arrive with such a big and open heart that couldn’t be measured with any money in the world.
Linus has as well had the time of his live. Back at home we don’t have any special routines, because we work during the evenings. However, here you get up at around 7.30, eat breakfast, morning meeting and then get to work. Physical labor. Even though the things we do down here are considered work, it doesn’t feel like it. We clean, feed, make toys for the animals. Linus has got to experience twice – wait for it – slaughtering a cow. Of course the animals we feed is donated and died of natural reasons. So, during the day we can suddenly get a call from some farmer in the area saying that one of his cows has died today. So Linus takes the truck and drives to the farm, picks it up, come back and slaughter it. And those who want to help or look are more than welcome.
As I was writing this down we had activity day, and got the time to sit with the animals in the morning. We each chose “our” animal to sit with. I chose Achilles and Jubatus. Since the first day I’ve felt there was a deeper connection with especially Achilles than with any of the others. We have had a couple of walks together and it seems like he is listening to every single word I am saying – which is a good feeling compared to the responses from many other humans.
Right now I am sitting here writing this, Linus runs around the enclosure with Achilles, and he hasn’t got the look you get sometimes when they think of you as a meal. However, it is more like a friend, playing together. They take a few rests, as both Killie and Linus is quite tired, and then they start over. This is also what the predators needs, stimulation – as if they where in the Wild.
It seems like both Achilles and Jubatus (or Killie and Jubs as I call them) has accepted us as part of their pride (not as food) and protecting us. As I came down today to Killie and Jubs, Ollie another lion stalked me on the way down. As I sat down and called at Killie and Jubs to say, hello, Ollie was on the other side still staring at me. My boys came, and they had a good eye on Ollie even though he just lay on the other side of the walkway. I felt safe.
A bit description of our experiences and feelings;
Falling asleep and waking up to the roars of lions, every day.
Sometimes feeding them – still warm – fresh red meat.
Seeing a tiger jump which you didn’t know that they could do. Especially that high.
Cleaning the enclosures and see how they live.
The most amazing sunsets over the “African” trees.
The farming work, that’s actually making a difference.
Get to know them.
The feedings when you could see the wildness in them again.
Having a lion roar strait into your face and you get some of the spit on you. What an indescribable feeling! It goes strait into your heart and soul. You say “thank you” to the lion, and he’s like “this was for you”…
And… their amazing stories when it’s told by the two women who were there and rescued them…
It’s no wonder why Cat moved down here from Norway. You get a certain peace and happiness in your heart and soul.
Linus and I are already planning on coming back this year to this piece of heaven on earth, Panthera Africa. We are so grateful for choosing the right sanctuary with the right people.
No interaction, No breeding – a true and pure sanctuary.
YAAAHHOOOO!!!! Tomorrow is our big day – we are reuniting with our beloved animals and bringing them home!!! Can you believe it?! My feelings inside are truly beyond words to describe and as I am writing the tears of joy are building up… Lizaene!! – WE DID IT!! Over a year ago we started with a big dream and now we are here with a big reward at the end of the rainbow! The establishment of Panthera Africa has been the most exciting yet challenging time of my life, and I will try my best and paint you the picture of how this year has been and hopefully you will get an idea of how incredible this all is for Lizaene and myself <3
After having searched for the perfect land for over four months, Lizaene and myself finally found our heaven on earth in the small village of Stanford, less than two hours from Cape Town. I am smiling here I am sitting thinking about the bargaining process and all the emotions between Lizaene and myself! We had our max limit set out after months of budgeting costs down to the smallest of details. I knew I had to put in a very tough fight to manage to get within our target as the asking price for the property was way to high. But you got to aim high 🙂 So after haggling back and forth for some days we had eventually put in our highest offer and I told the broker; “This is it!”. The broker said, “Well, I am sorry but I am sure this is too low!”, but I still told her to go back to the owner and again tell her about our purpose for this land, and this is as far as we could stretch. Lizaene was jumping next to me saying, “We need to give more, we can’t lose this property!!” and the temperature between us got quite high to say it mildly ;-). I tried to stay calm and collected but inside I was terrified because I KNEW this was our land and we just HAD to get it. After some hours, on our way to Douglas, the phone rang and it was the broker. My heart rose immediately and nervously I answered the phone… Guess what she said; “Well Cathrine, this is your lucky day – the owner finally agreed and the property is yours”!!! We both screamed of joy and got so excited that we nearly drove off the road!! WE HAD FINALLY GOTTEN OUR LAND!!! I will never forget the feeling when returning to OUR property some months later – the tears just started to flow – this 40 hectare of paradise was going to be the home for our beloved animals and the blessed and exciting future for Lizaene and myself!
Over the next half year the events followed – a true roller coaster ride with it’s very highs and very lows. I want to be honest and say that all though I feel truly blessed to have found my purpose in life, it has been a challenging time, even to the point of giving up. But hey, there is no giving up, right? Here is a brief resume of how the events and emotions unfolded… The excitement we felt on the road trip from Bloemfontein to Stanford towards the land of our dreams, the not too excited feelings I felt during the time I spent at the local backpackers, the amazing gesture from my beloved dear friend Janet when she invited us to stay with her until the property transaction was complete, the indescribable despair when we got frauded and the deposit on the house got stolen, the thrill of booking our contractor to start the construction of the enclosures, the indescribable disappointments when having to cancel the TLB and workers because of record reaching amount of rain the week before start up and the property was a swimming pool, the excitement of moving into the new house and getting everything sooo nice, the devastation of feedback from Cape Nature that we needed the tourist approval prior to being allowed to house our animals which meant we had to wait another five months till November, the feeling of a purposeful future when being in dialogue of establishing a partnership with an international animal welfare organisation, the anger when the pole order, three days before delivery, said they couldn’t deliver (8 weeks preorder), and the blessing of Seef, our contractor, who managed to get it all from another supplier in just three days, the frustration of receiving the wrong fencing material, the pure joy of seeing the first pole planted, the total devastation of believing that I had lost one of my fourlegged soul mates, the peace and recharge of my soul when visiting my other soul mates and being reminded why we were creating Panthera Africa, the nerve wreacking situation of seeing the bank account dropping insanely quick as all the bills needed to be paid, the proudness of managing to rearrange our money in order to save more animals, the constant longing and missing of the animals and fear of being driven too far away from them, the overwhelming gratitude for my Norwegian friends who made it possible to save my beloved Oliver, the heartache of knowing Obi needed immediate care yet not being able to do anything about it, experiencing miracles along the way of meeting the right people at the right time and place, the absolute shock of not receiving the freezer container and realising we again were frauded for a lot of money, the gratitude of a helping hand from a close friend to manage to buy another freezer, the testing of patience over and over and over again dealing with the approval processes for municipality and Cape Nature, the tears of joy running down my face when finally receiving the tourism approval, the terrifying news of finding out that the environmental department wasn’t sure after all and that we might need to go through a new process of 6 months (this news we received just before Christmas!!), the blessings from great friends and my aunt from Norway celebrating Christmas with us and making it a very special time, the pressure on my shoulders the day of the inspection from the environmental Department – I knew we HAD to get this accepted both for the life of Obi and for our financial situation, the constant help from permanent and other volunteers who have all become good friends, the fright of seeing the budget showing minus in just two months, the total sense of relief when receiving the approval from the environmental department, the mental and physical complete tiredness after a roller coaster ride over the last year, and now today the ultimate feeling of completion as the light in the end of the tunnel is glowing ever so bright! A new chapter of Panthera Africa is about to begin and I am ready!!! I don’t know how many times I have pinched myself over the last year, and I have done it about ten times during these last two weeks – MY DREAM IS COMING TRUE – I WILL FOREVER BE WITH MY LALA AND KEEP MY PROMISE TO OLIVER TO HAVE HIM WITH ME ONE DAY!!
So with this first blog for Panthera Africa I hope you get a feeling of how the journey has been so far, and we will all keep you posted on everything happening from here on. I want this blog to share dreams, hopes, our ups and downs, and include everyone from volunteers, staff, friends and family, and who ever feels the urge to share some words. Thank you to everyone who has helped, supported, and been there with and for me over the last year! Without you I wouldn’t be here!
My mother’s words are playing loundly in my head – “You can manage anything you want, Cathrine! Put your mind to it, work hard, and focus on the goal! You will see – your dreams will come true!!” And yes, they do indeed….
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