For those of you that know Holly and I personally, you’ll know we’re cat people.  We love cats, watch cat videos, have a pet cat… Holly even made me cat pajama pants (I should have stopped short of that one, huh?) last year as a joke, and I wore them till they fell apart.

10 years ago when Holly and I went to Australia for the first time, we decided to visit Steve Irwin’s zoo, where we took the opportunity to do a special tour that allowed us to pet a cheetah.  Amazing.  Being that close to a big cat was just incredible, and we’ve talked about doing something like that again ever since.  It turns out, there are lots of places outside the US where you can pet various wild animals… the problem, of course, is doing it responsibly.  Many of these places keep cats in terrible conditions, some, like those in Thailand, are notorious for drugging the animals so that people can have their pictures made with them.  As big as the allure is to get to interact with these amazing creatures is, I don’t want to be contributing to their demise with my own selfish ambitions.

While looking around for places to stay in South Africa, I stumbled on the Ashia Cheetah Sanctuary, where guests can volunteer to support their conservation efforts.  Holly and I chose to stay at their facility (which was really nice, by the way), and then volunteered for an entire day there, and it was AWESOME.  The day we were there was unfortunately rainy, so we ended up helping with a lot of chores indoors, but we did get to assist with food prep and delivery, as well as help clean the cheetah camps, all of which got us very close to the animals.  It’s not the type of place where you get to cuddle a cheetah (they’re not pets, after all), but you can sit and watch them at extremely close range, and help with legitimate efforts to increase South Africa’s cheetah population… something that I think is far better than a typical tourist photo.

I captured the above photo while Holly and I were doing our introduction walk.  This particular cheetah was curious of us and came over to have a look.  The early morning sun cast a dramatic shadow that I really liked.

Next week we move on to the cities of South Africa!

–Dan Thompson

Cades Cove

Cades Cove
633 Eben Farm, Sonstraal Rd, Paarl, 7646, South Africa
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