Too cute to leave out!
Today was our longest driving day – 400 km. Last night Chantelle, our local guide, convinced first us and then Duane that we should visit a big-cat breeding program to see leopards, which otherwise were “missing” from our “Big Five” list. Eventually, Duane came round, discovering that this route was 63 km shorter than his planned route. The drive was on secondary highways – patched asphalt and no hard shoulders. This country route allowed Duane to convey how the settler movement encountered this area. In the period of 1820 – 1827, shiploads of English men were brought to settle the area and establish the colony. (Later Irish “Colleens” were brought out to become wives – shows how desperate things were on all sides.) Most of the men quit the bush within a year, but those who were successful became wealthy, because the land is rich. The local name for this area is Camdeboo
, which is mangled Khoi
for “thirsty place”; its better known name is Karoo. Daniell Cheetah Project
is for “spotted wild cats”. The cats we saw are held in enclosures much smaller than in the Ana van Dyck De Wildt Cheetah Research Centre we visited a couple of weeks ago. Nevertheless,
Sheep aka prey
Temptation to the leopards
both centres do not expose to tourists the cats they use for breeding. Those they showed us were rescued cats that must be seriously cared for and managed. Data is kept on all the cats, and the small breeders work together to stretch the gene pool. We learned this as we watched two cheetahs, brother and sister, lying together in the warm shade. Usually males form “coalitions”, and the females are solitary, even with cubs. These two are so habituated to each other, they mourn when separated, as do members of male coalitions. Cheetahs can die of a broken heart, by refusing to eat. More tender-hearted than we are!
Two Serval cats and two Caracals were hard to see in the bushes in their enclosures. Caracals are so numerous that many people consider them pests, but this program took them in anyway.
We did get to see two leopards, but at first it wasn’t any different from seeing them in the Calgary Zoo – they were tangled up sleeping in their shelter. We moved on to see the lion. The one we saw was posing beautifully under some logs. Our guide, Danielle (no relation to the owners) predicted
that by the afternoon he would be inside, away from the heat. He and his brother were only two years old, although they looked mature to us. They had been rescued from someone who had been keeping them as pets until they got too big.
Walking back alongside the leopards, we were happily astonished to see them up and alert. For the owners, the base business of this property is sheep farming. A flock of sheep was being moved from the field to some pens. The leopards were keen to catch sight (and more?) of the sheep - looking and standing intently, brains obviously tracking the potential prey. One leopard ran a bit to get a better view. Danielle took the opportunity to explain that after a full power run, they need five hours of rest to get their strength back. They are quite fragile animals.
Finally we got to interact with another cheetah, Gia. She is very habituated to humans but still wild. Those of us who wanted did enter her large enclosure. We were instructed to stand together like a herd. Danielle led us to a spot and told us to stand in a single file
A cheetah not interested in us
to avoid looking threatening. Then she went up to the cheetah and petted her; the cheetah responded by leaning her whole body weight into Danielle’s legs. Danielle gradually led her over to us, monitoring carefully how the cheetah was behaving. A few of us got to pet the purring cheetah before she developed too much adrenalin. Danielle asked us to move out of the immediate area in single file, and she led us out of the enclosure. Although this was not entirely a wild experience, all of it left me feeling euphoric and inspired.
About an hour later than planned, we drove south and west, gradually leaving the Karoo behind, for the more treed African Montane
environment. While not lush, the green of bushes and trees replaced the grey of “rhino grass”. We turned more directly west at Uitenhage
, a noticeably prosperous town, site of the factory to repair rail rolling stock and of major car assembly plants. Automation is reducing the demand for skilled labour, but still people come to seek work, thus large tracks of land were being cleared for housing in the township.
We crossed the Hottentots Holland
mountain range and caught our first glimpses of the Indian Ocean
, last seen in Durban . This is the area famously known as the Garden Route
, previously completely misunderstood by me. When the Boer settlers came, they thought it looked like the Garden of Eden
, because it was so lush. (No particular gardens, the "Route" designation is for tourism purposes.) The vegetation is called Afro-Montane Rainforest, featuring an open canopy that enables thick undergrowth. Many of the trees are flowering varieties, although not in the fall, our current season. Only giant heather bushes – about four feet all – lend a bit of pink to the green.
Our lunch stop (reached after 2:00) was a large restaurant serving the many tourist to the Tsitsikamma National Park
. We ate at one of fifty or more picnic tables on an outdoor deck. Afterwards, with no time to lose, we headed out on a boardwalk path to Storms River Mouth. As we walked under the forest canopy, we could see the ocean crashing against rocks. At the river mouth this scene intensified as we crossed two high suspension bridges to reach a viewpoint. The rocks were weirdly long and cracked, exposed to constant crashing white caps even on this calm day.
On the road again, we
The exotic growing by the roadside!
saw many large dairy farms. This area is where the bulk of dairy products are produced for all of South Africa. The yachts at Jeffrey’s Bay
, a big surfing and tourist destination, confirmed the prosperity of this region. It was further confirmed as we finally pulled into Knysna
(pronounced n-eye-zna) and our very nice Protea hotel that overlooks more yachts and lots of restaurants. We ate at a neighbouring restaurant, JJ’s, from a set menu for tour groups: garden salad, chicken and mango on pasta, crepes suzette, white wine. View video of our visit with Gia, the cheetah. View map of route to date.
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