Feeding Time at the Sanctuary

Last night I went to bed with a (domestic) cat on my pillow and was woken by the house dog, Leonardo, at 5.30am giving my face a bath. Given that the team meeting was at 7am I thought it best to get up, have a coffee and watch the sunrise. Beautiful.

In the morning we did some back breaking chores including clearing the paths for the visitors and going to the dump. Its glamorous stuff. We also introduced two of the lionesses to their new enclosure.

After lunch we spent some considerable time hacking up a cow and making sure that eat cat had the supplements they need. This took HOURS and frankly I’ve never been covered in so much blood. Each cat was given meat in proportion to their size, the largest being two legs and two ribs totalling nearly 25kg (almost the same weight as my suitcase). Then we got to the fun bit – feeding. It is a wonderful sight seeing these magnificent animals feast. Also slightly terrifying, but there was a great satisfaction in knowing that I helped prepare their meal and, more importantly, that they enjoyed it.

Here are some of my favourite pictures of the day.


A gourmet meal prepared by moi…18838796_10155367743934253_4436882372036216475_n

Cody, cliffs and cold winds

My last week! How has the time gone so quickly?

Sunday was beautiful, and was also a day off, so I took some time to take pictures of some of the gorgeous cats sleeping off their food.


On Monday we made toys for the domestic cats and also the jackals.

Although Panthera Africa is a big cat sanctuary, they also have 3 jackals, hidden away from the public. They are Maya, Cody and Lucy. Jackals are naturally shy animals and are nocturnal. However they are very playful at dusk and LOVE a boiled egg. So I made them some papier mache balloons filled with chicken feathers and a boiled egg each.

I sat with them and watched as Cody tentatively went over, sniffed the ball, picked it up and then ran away out of sight. All I could hear was the munch, munch on the egg. Always good to know one’s efforts are appreciated!


Tuesday was excursion day and we had a lovely time wandering around Hermanus, visiting the African market and walking the cliffs. I bought some handmade lions – pink of course – and haggled down the price with the artist, Margaret, who, frankly, would rather not have sold them at all and kept changing her mind about whether or not to sell them to me!

We had a wonderful lunch on the ocean and were watched by some hungry Dassies. Although a Dassie looks like an overgrown gerbil, its closest genetic relative is the elephant… To end the day I walked along the beach with some traditional Biltong to munch on.

Today was cold and wet and windy and rainy, but no rest for us hardy volunteers! We continued work on Bagiura’s camp and she now has a house!

The cats were fighting off the chilly wind and rain by curling up together and sleeping. Truly a blessed life.

This is Ollie and Obi, although I’ll admit that they look more like balls of fluff than lions…

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Neptune, King of the Panthera Africa pride, also looked as though he’d prefer to be somewhere hotter today.

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And the cubs, Elsa and Lei-ah, snuggled up on their roof for warmth. Although one might think that being inside would be warmer….

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Only 2 days to go! I intend to make every moment count.

Until next time


Bagiura, betting and bad backs.

Hello! Hello! And sorry for the lack of posts. We have been extremely busy here at Panthera Africa.

On Tuesday we spent the day continuing to clear Bagiura’s camp for her impending arrival in August.

Bagiura was bred in captivity and ended up in a circus. Bagiura refused to perform and so was kept in a 7m x 4m crate for 7 years of her life without a moment outside to feel the grass on her paws or the sun on her face. A lioness should weigh between 180 – 200kgs. When she found she weighed 70kgs!


Thankfully she is no longer in her crate and will be joining the pride later this year. The work is long and hard, but we know that every back breaking moment will be worth it so that she will finally have a proper home to live in and be loved.

I have even been dubbed the “stump expert” after spending the afternoon digging up 25 stumps from dead trees from her camp!

On Wednesday we were led on an animal communication course by Sammy Thompson. The morning was spent meditating and finding our spirit guides.

Mine was a beautiful blue eyed timber wolf. In the afternoon we connected with Sammy’s pets and, amazingly, got a lot of the information correct! I was able to glean that Puffin, a beautiful tabby, was “frenemies” with Luna the dog, where her favourite place to sleep was and gauge her personality. Fascinating stuff.

I then connected with Raise (below) who told me he chose to talk to me as I was “full of fun and laughter” and needed to be “strong and confident”. Whether or not you believe in animal communication, the words have an effect on you and you do feel a sense of calm, whether they come from the animal or from inside yourself.

On Thursday we went on our weekly excursion to the Caledon Hotel. We were gambling and drinking at 11am. I doubled my money and then lost it all (about £8), great fun! We then spent the afternoon in the spa relaxing in the natural hot springs. Just what my poor back needed!

Yesterday it was back to work. I painted the kitchen cupboards and we all cleared HUGE amounts of dead wood and trees for the fire breaks.

Last night we said goodbye to two of our volunteers. We went out for a lovely meal followed by a stop in the middle of a field to see the Milky Way and some shooting stars. Bliss.

Today we did a big clean of all the camps. I cleared around 4 large buckets of lion poo. Nasty work but we need to keep them clean for the beautiful animals.

This afternoon, two new volunteers arrive and no doubt there will be much drinking as we have our one and only day off on Sundays.

This place is hard work, but worth every minute for the beautiful cats we are helping and the peaceful surroundings.

Only a week left! Time flies when you are working, and playing, hard.


Until next time,



Tiaras and Tantrums

Friday was my 34th birthday and it was amazing. I woke up just before dawn the hear the lions roaring. When I got into the kitchen, to my amazement, there was a bunch of flowers, a card and some presents from the staff and volunteers. There was a bottle of moonshine and a TIARA! Happy days.

I spent the rest of the day doing a big clean of all the cats. Essentially, I cleaned up lion poo in a tiara. I was one happy princess.


The next day was Jade’s birthday. Jade and her sister Je’taime were raised by Lizaene, one of the founders of the sanctuary, at a previous project. After she left them she found out that Jade was being used to breed. Normally a lion will have a cub and then look after the cub for around 24 months meaning that they have one litter every 3 years or so. Unfortunately, the people who owned Jade at the time took the cubs away instantly which meant that she went back into season and became pregnant again almost immediately. Over 3 years she had 7 litters. Imagine the physical and emotional strain this would have on her. Lizaene was determined to rescue her and Je’taime as soon as she could.

Sadly, when Lizeane came to collect Jade, they found that Je’taime had been killed in a lion fight a few months earlier. Jade is incredibly friendly and often joins in with the boys when they roar. Jade lives with Zakara. Zakara was named by the founders of the sanctuary and it means inspiration, hope and guidance.

To celebrate Jade’s birthday we filled various tyres with bushman’s bedding, peanut butter and spices and covered it with papier mache. Here she is enjoying it (photo courtesy of Nina).


That night we had a traditional South African braai to celebrate her birthday and mine. Lizaene and Cat out did themselves and we all drank far too much moonshine. I have been asked not to post the photos. What happens at Panthera Africa, stays here ;).

The next morning, surprisingly, I had no hangover so I cleaned up after the party and helped with a tour. It was a beautiful relaxing day.

Today, after moving the caracals into the enrichment camp, where they paid absolutely no attention to the toys we made them, we picked dodders. ALL DAY.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of picking dodders, but let me tell you: it is the dullest job on the planet. They are everywhere, and I swear that the moment you pick one, 3 grow in its place. They remind me somewhat of the task that Hercules had to kill the Hydra where when he cut off one head three grew in its place. Frankly I’d take the Hydra over dodders any day.

It was during the 4th hour of doddering that I had a mini tantrum, in my head, and thought up various songs about how much I hate them. These songs are not publishable due to the vast quantities of swearing.

After killing my back doddering I went to see the cats to cheer myself up and to make sure that the mini, internal tantrum did not irrupt. I think you’ll agree that these lot are so beautiful that they calmed me instantly and I now feel much much better.

Until next time.




Time out and Tigers

The last few days have been manic and I fear that tomorrow I will be too hungover to write coherently so here goes with the latest from Panthera Africa.

On Wednesday we went out on our weekly excursion. We were being filmed for a promotional video for new volunteers, so we packed a lot in. After the usual morning chores of cleaning out bones and ensuring that the cats had enough water, we drove to Stanford where we went quad biking. Given how accident prone I am, I was slightly apprehensive about this. It was awesome. We drove around at top speed through beaches, up hills, down them again and through bushes. I only crashed once – a minor miracle.

After quad biking we had a delicious lunch in the sun – I had a springbok burger with “goats Camembert” – which was delicious. We then took a trip to the local honey factory and sampled a number of flavours, although they all tasted the same to me. After that we went to Birkenhead Brewery where we sampled some delicious wine and ales.

On our way home we had to do our weekly shopping. And you all know how I feel about South African supermarkets. You’ll be pleased to know that, once again, they had moved the sodding pasta sauce, so another 20 minutes were dedicated to finding it. When I went to pay for my shopping and was told cheerfully by the checkout girl that I had bought the MOST EXPENSIVE CHEESE in the shop – some things never change.

I then went to buy some cigarettes so I went up to the counter and asked for 200 cigarettes. They looked at me as if I’d just asked to purchase their grandmother. I asked whether I could have a carton of cigarettes, a similar response, but one of them went off so I waited. Around 15 minutes later the same lady came back with a basket of cartons of cigarettes and said “we don’t have 200”! I suddenly realised that she thought I meant 200 packs – not 200 cigarettes…

This is all rather getting away from the cats….

On Thursday we spent the day cleaning, making enrichment and clearing dodders. We did get to spend quite a lot of time with Bella and Raise, the tigers.

Bella was raised by a good friend of the sanctuary but at two months old became very ill and had a virus in her brain. She was in intensive care for 3 weeks and given less than 20% chance of survival. But with love and care, she pulled through and has grown into a small tiger who loves to “chuff” at you to say hello.

Raise was living with Bella and her brother Aries along with 8 other tigers. The owner of the other tigers decided that these beautiful animals were worth more to him as bones. The sanctuary had made him promise to keep Bella and Aries alive so they could be rescued. To the devastation of the sanctuary, Aries was mistaken for another and killed for the tiger bone trade. Although hearts were broken, the remaining tiger – who had no name at this stage – had stepped up and become a brother and friend to Bella. For this reason he was kept and called Raise – to Raise awareness for tigers. (The first 2 photos are Raise the other 3 are Bella – courtesy of Stig).

I have, just this moment, been handed a beer as my birthday party is about to start, so I will write more about the wonderful surprises that the sanctuary had for me on my birthday weekend once the hangover has abated.




Mishaps and making movies

Yesterday was a hard day’s work.

First thing in the morning I did a perimeter walk to check the electric fences and to make sure that there were no holes or evidence of people trying to get into the camp. When I got to Jade and Zakara’s enclosure I felt like someone was watching me. I turned around to find them both stalking me in the bushes! Gave me quite a fright, so I started singing Disney to them. They soon backed off 🙂

We spent rest of the morning drying out 8ft poles and painting them with tar to secure the enclosures. Fabulous purple poncho now tar black. Helpfully I dropped one of these poles on my foot – the one that had been in a cast for 7 months. Thankfully the foot does not need amputation, just ice and a big bruise.

I then smacked my head into the corner of the garage door. No blood, but a bad headache and more ice.

To top it all off I then got splattered with the oil from a vegan sausage (not mine). All in all a painful day… and my mum was worried I’d be injured by a lion, HA!

However I did get to go and play with the cubs, Elsa and Lei-ah. Here is Lei-ah showing off her teeth. The cubs were rescued from a game reserve that interbred lions and Lei-ah was very sick and almost died. The reserve she was rescued from wanted help in stopping their breeding activity and to make sure that she was re-located to a loving home. They contacted Panthera Africa who happily took her in.

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We also did a “mini feed” where each cat get at least one whole chicken.

Today was an exciting day as the sanctuary was being filmed for German documentary on sanctuaries like ours. For half an hour I was followed around and filmed picking up tiger poo. Sounds scintillating. In all seriousness the documentary is going to try to show how sanctuaries like Panthera Africa are helping these beautiful animals who, due to breeding in captivity and petting farms, cannot survive in the wild. This place really does do wonderful work.

To try to get some good film for the documentary we made enrichment for the tigers and the cubs. The cubs ignored their box and dragged the branch taken from the tigers’ enclosure off to play and Raise tried, and failed, to get the box on the pole. His roomie Bella got it down later, but sadly no camera.

Birthdays, balls and blisters

The 9th of June was Jubatus’ (Jubi) 8th birthday so the sanctuary made him a cake and a zebra pinata filled with enrichment to celebrate.


Jubi lives with Achilles. When Achilles was young his testicles didn’t drop properly and so he had to be castrated. Achilles and Jubi were best friends and grew up together. In order to ensure that they could remain together when they were rescued, Jubi was also castrated. As lions are pack animals making sure that they could stay together was the best thing that could happen for their welfare, especially in captivity. Because of the castration, neither lion has grown a mane, however, they are both much bigger and stronger than the other lions at the sanctuary – around 20-30kg. It is theorised that the extra strength is nature’s way of compensating for the lack of a mane.

Jubi and Achilles had a wonderful time playing with the cake and the boomer balls that we hid inside the cake and zebra.

The rest of the day was spent raking the car park for 4 hours – I have a blister on my thumb as proof of hard work – and clearing out the new camp for Baguira.

Sundays we have off, and Lord knows we need it. So today was mostly spent sleeping, but I did go down and say “Hi” to the caracals. Amy was tired too…


Next Saturday is Jade’s birthday, so this coming week we will be making a present for her. Stay tuned.

When the rain stops, the work starts

For the past few days there has been a horrific storm over the Cape. The worst for 30 years. Thankfully, the cats and I are safe, if a little cold.

Yesterday the storm was still going but with less force than the day before, so we did try to get out to do some work. The day did not start well. It was cold, wet and windy. When I put my wellies on a very disgruntled frog jumped out.

We made our way down to the cats and were about to start work cleaning when a cry of “back to the house NOW” was heard. We looked up, saw the black cloud above us and ran back to the house, about half a mile. By the time we got back we were soaked to the bone and it was hailing. Who says South Africa is hot?

After drying off we sat around, played cards and ate a stupid amount of cheese – the day was slowly getting better. When the weather got better again we started the long job of clearing up after the storm. The cats clearly were not impressed with the weather either as we saw little of them.

In the evening we went out for a farewell dinner as 3 of the volunteers are leaving tomorrow. I was very pleased to see that it was pizza and had pepperoni, mozzarella, cheddar, feta and Camembert on mine. Basically I had a day of eating cheese, which, as you know, is my favourite thing besides cats. Got home to find Leo in bed awaiting cuddles. So a bad day ended very well.

This morning we woke to a beautiful sunrise and knew that we had 2 days worth of work to get done in 1.

There is a new lioness, Baguira, moving to the sanctuary in August and so we spent the morning clearing out her enclosure. I was tasked with removing “dodders” a type of weed (pictured). These are a leech and kill whatever plant they attach to. They are EVERYWHERE.

After 3 hours of weeding and taking things to the dump it was time for a feed. This is, without a doubt, my favourite thing to do. Sadly I cannot post the videos on this blog but have a look at my Facebook page for videos of Obi and Achilles having lunch.

This is Amy, a caracal, having her chicken leg for lunch.


This is Pardus, or LaLa, a black leopard, relaxing after devouring her portion of horse.


Tomorrow we are up at 6am for another long day of work, including throwing a birthday party for one of the lions, so I’m off the bed. Yes I’m aware its 7.30pm on a Friday night, but this stuff is exhausting, and frankly I’d rather be up at the crack of dawn to play with cats than have a normal London Saturday, so I’m not complaining.


Waterfalls and Pooper-scooping in a hurricane

The last two days could not have been more different.

Tuesdays are excursion days. We were supposed to go to Cape Town, but were warned of an impending hurricane which would have meant being stuck there for 3 days so instead, we decided to climb the “pig snout” and have a picnic by a waterfall. After making sure all the cats had water and admiring the paw prints in the sand, we went out. The weather was glorious, not a cloud in the sky perfect day for a hike up a mountain.


After the picnic we went shopping for supplies. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a supermarket in SA, but let me assure you, it is a stressful experience. I wanted pasta and sauce for the evenings when I didn’t feel up to cooking. Pasta I found. On a previous shopping trip the sauce had been in a logical place – next to the pasta. I walked around for what felt like hours and simply could not locate the damn sauce. I was told “aisle 3” but there was no pasta sauce to be found. Eventually it was located in a shopping trolley. I was told that it was being moved from next to the pasta to aisle 3 because people complained that being next to the pasta was the wrong place!

We also fed the caracals, Max, Amy and Jack (pictured). Such loving things. They crave human interaction so we spent a lot of time talking to them.

I was beginning to think that this storm was fictional when, at about 5pm, the clouds came rolling in. Within a second the wind went from non existent to 50mph. We all hunkered down for the night with hot food and Dr Who. It was almost impossible to sleep that night with the wind howling and rain lashing at the windows, but somehow beautiful as well.


We were granted a “lie in” the next day, meaning that work did not start til 8am. At 8 we were outside in our wellies and waterproofs getting meat ready for the cats. We then went out to the enclosures to clean them of cat poo and old bones. I don’t know if you’ve ever scooped lion poo, but let me tell you, it STINKS. Thank god I decided not to do this during the SA summer when temperatures can reach over 40C! Yuck. Instead I got to do it in the middle of a hurricane…

When I was packing for the trip I was told to bring wellies and waterproofs. I have never owned either, mainly on the premise that if the weather is that bad you should just stay indoors or take a cab. But I duly did as I was told. Thank GOD. However, my poncho was not very practical in the now 70mph winds so I had to improvise (see pics). Frankly I think I’m wasted in law and should take up fashion designing like my very talented nephew Jake…

Crazy Cat Lady in SA

I’m 33 years young and, after a long and stressful few years including 7 months on crutches, I decided to take a break from the real world. On 3rd June I flew from Heathrow to Cape Town to start my adventure. For the next month I will be volunteering at the Panthera South Africa Big Cat Sanctuary. http://pantheraafrica.co.za/

On arrival early on 4th June I was told about the horrid events in London on 3rd June and my heart goes out to all affected. But we must not let them win and must carry on as normal. Happily for me “normal” for the next month is working with these big cats.

I’m not sure what I expected when I got here, but it was something akin to one of those backpacker dorms that you experience when you go travelling. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to arrive in a welcoming, clean farm where I share a bathroom with one other girl. There are also 3 dogs and 2 domestic cats that seem to like our room more than any other. I’m thrilled, as 2 days in and I am missing Denny, so having other animals sleeping in my bed is a bonus.

Before I’d even unpacked I was taken on a tour of the beautiful cats. Sadly no pictures today as my phone and camera both need charging. The stories of these wonderful cats and how they were rescued moved me to tears. I hope to write about each of them once I get to know them better.

Instead of pictures, today you get the fascinating fact I learnt: The roar of the MGM lion is not, in fact a lion, but an amalgamation of tigers, lions and leopards…

I’m off to bed now after a long day and I can hear the lions roaring in the distance, Bliss.