Tigers, Meerkats and Lemurs - Animals Galore :)

Trip Start Aug 28, 2012
Trip End Aug 09, 2013

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Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Sunday, July 7, 2013

7-14th July – Conga Wildlife Ranch Volunteering, Oudtshoorn

This was attempt 2 at doing some volunteering whilst in South Africa. For starters; the place we had organised was 2.5 times cheaper than the previous place, looked nicer, had better reviews and fewer volunteers.  So fingers crossed... But no need.; from the start things were brilliant and just kept better and better.  It is hard to put into words how much this experience meant to me, nor is it possible to say how excited I was to have the opportunity to work with big cats again.  I hope the photos show just how much fun I had!

We were dropped off by the BazBus in Mac Donalds.  The bus was an hour and a half earlier so we had to hang around for our pick up.  We were welcomed straight away by a smiley Bianca and Tamz, our volunteer co-ordinators.  The warm welcome then continued when we got into the minibus with some other volunteers who'd been shopping for the day; all of whom were very friendly and excited for some new faces.  The drive from George to Oudtshoorn was stunning, through all the hills and grasslands inland from the coast we’d become accustomed to.  We arrived to an enormous house and a private room with 2 single beds for Laura and I, with the 10 other girls and one boy (I know, poor guy!) split between 4 more rooms.  There was a massive lounge and dining room open plan area next to a huge kitchen with a garden that surrounded the entire house.  A beautiful setting and one that I will happily be spending the next 2 weeks :)

We arrived in the house at about 4:30 so it was a bit late to go to the ranch, so we just chilled in the house.  But I was soon done with chilling and with my appetite coming back, the offer t go out for dinner with some of the girls was too gooda opportunity to miss, as well as getting to know some of the girls: Teresa and Vanessa from Germany, Lana from Holland and Ashleigh from Durban.  We walked to the small town and went to Brian’s Grill which more or less sold every type of food going; from curries to BBQ food to Italian!  I went for the safe, plain option of arabiatta pasta, with a recommendation from Lana who’d had it before.  However, what it hadn’t been before was spicy, and bloody hell did this blow my head off.  I only managed about a quarter of the dish and took the remainder home with a small chance I or maybe Laura may have some tomorrow.

Our first day on the ranch was a chance for us to see the ranch and do all the encounters with all the animals; a blimming good day!  After a quick intro from Tamz and Bianca, we went to the ranch and took a tour from one of the guides along with some public members before our animal encounters.  We went in with the cheetahs, 8 month old tigers, servals (mini-cheetah), caracals (lynx), lemurs, python and lizard.  All of these encounters have to be done with someone trained and with the big cats, sadly we weren’t really allowed to do anything other than pose with the for a picture.  The smaller cats however were very friendly, purring away whilst we stroked them!  We were also allowed in with the meerkats but without supervision which was good.  On our second day morning we went to Greystones breeding centre.  We saw 'lovers lane’ where the male cheetahs were released down to see if any females are interesting as well as some other rescued cheetahs that are there only for a home.  We also went to the tiger breeding centre where there were 3 tigers (1 orange, 2 white).  The 2 white tigers had recently been separated but were still flirting away so they were allowed back in together whilst we were there and we actually saw them breeding: tiger sexy-time!

The rest of the week (all 3 and a half days) followed a timetable of 8:30 start, 10-10:30 break, 1-2 lunch time, and finish about 4:30.  During ‘work time’ we were given jobs to do, most of which were pretty basic and quick, so we weren’t really worked too hard!  Some examples of some basic, easy jobs we had were watering plants, hanging donkey tails on trees for the tigers to find and play with, cleaning various enclosures and cleaning out water bowls.  Some tasks were either more challenging, hard work or down-right weird!  One task we were given was called piñatas on our task sheet.  Obviously you would think that maybe you’re making one for a party or something; you would not think of cutting up horse skin, cutting holes in the edges, stuffing it with mince meat and then threading a thread of skin through all the holes to make a sort of meat, shot-put... it was an interesting task and with half of the girls being vegetarians, Laura and I could understand why this task was given to us.

One of the funnier tasks Laura and I were given was to clean the windows of the massive fish tank.  This was funny enough when we were given huge baggy shorts, snorkels and masks and weight belts, but made even more funnier when we were shown our tools for cleaning these windows; a 3cm long, shaving blade!  We managed to actually get it done though in about 40 minutes but with cramped wrists and pond water up our noses!  We also had a rather hard job cleaning out some animal carriers for transfer that were being sent back via currier!  We thought we’d done a pretty good job before we found out that there was a tray that came out from underneath that contained lots of dust, poo and hay.  This "small" job as described by Tamz ended up taking us 2 hours in the heat of the day!

As well as little jobs here and there, we had 2 projects, one which we made up for ourselves and the other being given to us.  Our project that we decided to do for ourselves was an educational one; we figured there wasn’t that much for kids to do once they’d gone round the park once, so we designed a questionnaire/quiz sort of thing for them to do for around the park.  We called it a “detective report” and everyone we told about it was very enthusiastic and eager to see it put into action.  I worked for 4 hours on the sheet that evening and Laura did the quizzes for the other side of the sheet.  However, we showed it to the marketing person Tammy and she pretty much put a halt on the whole idea so that was that; they’ve got the files so can do what they want with the idea if they choose to!

The second project we were given I named “Licking Duikers”.  A duiker is a miniature type of antelope that wander around 3 different areas of the ranch.  In one area though, the public had said they’d been licking people hands so the keepers concluded they were missing some salts and sugars from their diet.  So we had to experiment with some molasses (a syrupy sort of substitute thing – I hadn’t heard of it either if that’s what you’re thinking!)  So we found some bricks, covered one of them in the treacle like stuff, and on the other mixed it with some “monkey chow” (corn grain sort of food thing).  We then went and watched as the duikers slowly got over the fear of us, then the bricks, then the smell!  But ultimately they did like it and licked about a third of the brick when we went back to take it out of the enclosure.  Result...hopefully something will come out of this project if nothing comes out of the last!

Our last day was allowed to be a ‘fun day’ as it was our last (as well as 8 of the others).  Laura and I spent the longest amount of time of our day in with the lemurs, who need to be made more used to people and being hand-fed.  Laura and I had been in with them the previous day, so going in with them for a second time, it was nice that they seemed to recognise us and be more confident in coming onto our laps and taking the food from our hands.  After any type of cat as a pet, I want a ring-tailed lemur; so cute and soooo soft!  Luckily, Laura and I were able to go back in with the tigers, as the first time they were asleep.  However, he wasn’t being the most co-operative this time; he obviously just wanted to play whilst the keepers were trying to make him sit down and stay still.  Poor boy.  So we got some quick pictures and left to give him some peace and quiet!  We also went in with the caracals again; the friendliest of the cats that they have on the ranch.

That evening was our farewell meal with all of the house plus Bianca and Tamz.  And OMG, I know I say it a lot, but I think this may have been the best meal yet.  Of course, Laura and I shared.  To have some traditional South Africa food, we started with lemon, croc bites with tartar sauce, chips and salad.  We then had crumbed mushrooms with garlic dip and a sort of ‘surf and turf’; a sirloin steak and beautifully cooked calamari, with chips and salad.  It seems a rather simple meal (except the crocodile!) but it was all cooked beautifully with good sauces to go with the food.  Afterward, following a mix up with where everyone had disappeared to, we went down the road to the local ‘club’ if you can call it that.  We had a few more drinks, an attempt at dancing to some good music and some not so good music before calling it a night at 1ish.  Potentially the best bit of the evening however was the walk home; with Sander playing music on his phone, we all decided it was karaoke time and spent the entire half hour walk home, singing!

The next day luckily did not consist of a hangover but with everyone else on a trip to the beach, Laura and I had the house to ourselves and stupidly headed to town and the shops...lets just say I got a lot for a little amount with an even littler amount of space in my bad for the stuff to go into :S  Haha

The week sadly flew by and it was soon time to move on.  After our not so good experience with the first place, this couldn’t have gone any better with an amazing location, house, brilliant people and great animals to play with for the week.  And with our food included Mon-Fri, t-shirt and polo-shirt, hat, £2 toward our leaving meal (that was less than £10 each) and free wifi all for a miniscule £202, it was an amazing week with brilliant memories and even better pictures to show it.  Happy Cat!
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