I came to South Africa originally to Kitesurf and to see some friends that I had met on recent trips whilst travelling around Europe. Whilst I had some aspirations to volunteer on this trip, I didn’t expect to come here, and truth be known, I had not really heard of canned hunting, captive breeding, and true Sanctuaries – never mind Panthera Africa!
I came here on a recommendation from a friend after speaking about ideas for volunteering, and after doing some research realized this was an organisation with good ethical practices where it is obvious where time and money spent would be put to good use.
I can honestly say it has been one of the best experiences of my time here and cannot recommend it enough if you are interested in big cats, or wanting to understand more about what happens in this industry, or just simply want to come and put your time and energy into something worthwhile.
The set up is good, a big comfortable shared house, friendly staff, and a good mix of volunteers from all over the world from all age groups, and then there is the animals themselves.
They run a no breeding, no petting, not for hunting and minimal human interaction ruling here, and provide a safe home for these animals who have been taken from other sanctuaries, and perhaps would not be able to survive in the wild.
Part of what the owners are trying to do here is spread the awareness of what can be done to help these animals, and how a business can be set up and be successfully run in this way.
The owners Cathrine and Lizaene are very knowledgeable and passionate about their project, and for saying it has only been open 9 months, it is incredible what they have achieved in such a short space of time.
The animals are amazing to see, and whilst you are not able to interact as such, you are able to sit with them through the fences, and just soak in the atmosphere of these amazing animals! To hear the lions roar in the evening as the sunsets, or witness the tigers chuffing as you walk past the enclosures is not easy to describe, other than wow!
There is a mix of Lions, Tigers, Jackals and Caracals and a Panther, and all have a story to tell. The animals all seem very happy and content, and have x2.5 the minimal required enclosure size.
Volunteers are able to become involved in a variety of work, ranging from the physical (building new shelters for the animals, repairing fences), to helping prepare food and herbs for the animals and feeding, to enrichment activities (for the animals to play with). The pace is good and there is a nice balance of things to do and time to just chill and relax or spend time near the animals. What also works well is a weekly trip out with the team to go do some fun activities away from the farm.
As an experience to help out on a genuine project I would strongly recommend it, and as an opportunity to develop an understanding and awareness of what happens in the world of these animals it is definitely worthwhile. There is so much I am taking away from the past few weeks here, and cannot thank the owners and other volunteers enough for making the experience what it is.
John – January 2016
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