World Wildlife Day 2018

Hayley Mitchell
6 March 2018

What better way to celebrate World Wildlife Day than a tour of Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre to experience some examples of the indigenous wild cats of Africa!

NVT facilitates Eco-schools at 4 local schools in the Greater Plettenberg Bay area, as part of the national WESSA Eco-Schools program. The program is designed to create awareness and action around environmental sustainability in schools and their surrounding communities. To fit the themes set by the WESSA Eco-Schools programme, we create opportunities to expose children to the various environments that surround them; educating and creating an appreciation for the natural world that surrounds us.

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We started off with a bang, the gorgeous African Leopard: Zwelakhe. As a near-threatened species on the Red List, illegally hunted for sport and their fur, it stuns you how people end the life of such a majestic animal. We approached the gated area slowly and quietly as Zwelakhe eyed us all, focusing on those wearing red (must be his favorite color). He lay there calmly as the guide educated us on their maximum speed (~58km/h!), and their ability to leap more than ~6m horizontally and ~3m vertically! Knowing we cannot stay too long, as Zwelakhe gets excited with large crowds, we slowly exited the area. Just as we were reaching our exit, he leaped across the grass, running with us along the gate and playfully rolling around on the ground.

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Next, we went to visit the servals: found in the well-watered long-grass savannah environments in the East and North parts of South Africa and central Africa. These agile wildcats are thought to be the most successful of the feline family but are in fact very shy animals. They often hide from large groups and watch from a distance. As we entered the enclosure, we were told that it is extremely important to stick together as a group and keep quiet. The servals did exactly as expected, hiding in the tall grass, but we were lucky enough to witness these beautiful creatures from afar.

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The Caracal, known for its pointy black ears, was in a specifically tall enclosure, as this creature can jump up to 3m. high while hunting for its prey! Another amazing fact? Stalking a large flock of birds, the Caracal is capable of leaping into the air and knocking down 10-12 birds at one time! This cat is often found roaming the wild but will disappear before you’re able to observe it closely, so the kids really enjoyed being able to watch this animal up-close.

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Then we made our way to greet Chester and Zimbali, two exquisite cheetahs at Tenikwa. The word “Cheetah” is derived from the Hindi word “Chita” meaning “spotted one”. The cheetah is faster than the leopard, reaching speeds up to 120km an hour! These two were very interested in our group as we approached: Chester, the male, paced the fence the entire time, watching the children as he guarded his territory. Zimbali, the female, was a little more relaxed, purring loud enough for us to hear as she peacefully lay there. Not wanting to make Chester feel stressed, we left the area to move onto the next part of the tour but not quick enough for him to start marking his territory! (You can imagine how humorous the children found this!)

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The last (but definitely not least!) wildcat: The African Lion! Mkuhlu, and Khuluma are an interesting pair as they are siblings but look nothing alike. Mkuhlu is a rare and ravishing white lion, which we learned is not a separate subspecies but is actually caused by a recessive gene. Big, dark manes on male lions are an indication of health and vigor and therefore favored by females. When we first walked in, Khuluma seemed a bit spooked and ran to the bushes on the other side of the enclosure. Her protective brother, hidden in the trees in the back, came out to make sure she was okay and greeted her with a hug, proving to the children what a great sibling he is.

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A great day spent with these wondrous animals had the children smiling and asking when they could return. Thank you to Tenikwa for hosting the program and exposing our youth to not only African wildcats but many other beautiful beasties such as the curious meerkats, the grumpy water mongoose and an array of interesting and very unusual-looking birds roaming about!

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