I’ve never wanted to see tigers, jaguars or cougars in South Africa, simply because they don’t belong here and I don’t enjoy seeing wild animals in captivity. But then I discovered somewhere I could see these exotic cats without feeling bad. Here’s why to visit Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary near Plettenberg Bay on South Africa’s Garden Route.
Jukani, part of the South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance (SAASA), provides a protected environment for some 80 animals that chomp through around 1000kg of food every day. Beyond caring for them, Jukani hopes to educate people like you and me, to change the way we think and how we treat animals. It has a zero tolerance policy towards trade in wildlife and animal interactions (petting), and won’t breed animals – three great points in its responsible tourism arsenal.
Our guide was Bert Vos, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the animals and the threats they face. He also has a dry sense of humour.
In the first enclosure were a three-legged springbok and a few zebra. The idea, he told us, is for the smell of them to psychologically simulate the predators. ‘Zebras and primates are sweet meat, like chocolates for carnivores,’ he quipped. Pointing out the difference between predator and prey, he noted: ‘A cheetah runs for breakfast, a springbok runs for its life.’
He was deadly serious on the topic of human interactions with animals. ‘Whenever something goes wrong, the cat always gets the bullet. There’s absolutely no conservation value in petting, and part of my job is educating guests about animals in captivity.’
Take the Siberian tiger, for instance. ‘There are only 250 left in the wild and they’re dying at a rate of two a week because they’re in demand for medicine,’ he said. In the Far East, a tiger’s tail around the waist is thought to keep away evil spirits, the teeth to make you rich. ‘A single whisker to ward off evil spirits sells for $22,000.
‘They’re anti-social cats who lead secret lives and will walk around only to patrol their area and keep it safe,’ he continued. ‘That’s why they’re so easy to hunt; you just need to find a tiger path and then lie in wait. We calculate that there’ll be no Siberian tigers in the wild in five years.’
The males can jump 3m high and run at 80km/h. They kill by jumping on the back of an animal and using their 10cm-long canines to rip out a piece of the spine.
We also saw a white Bengal tiger, the result of a recessive gene. ‘The last one in the wild was shot in 1958 and there are about 3500 in captivity. Only 20% of them survive because of inbreeding and weak genes. They also go blind [from incurable progressive retinal atrophy].’
- This ‘biting machine’ has a biting force of up to 1300 pounds per square inch (8960 KPa), compared to only 600 pounds per square inch (4135 KPa) in lions.
- The spottie is two-and-a-half times smaller than a lion or tiger but its heart is two-and-a-half times bigger, which makes it a better runner over long distances.
- It has a 95% success rate with kills compared to a lion’s or tiger’s success rate of just 30%.
- Dominant females make their own testosterone. The fake penis in the female is the birth canal and cubs are born with fully erupted teeth and eyes open, ‘ready for war’, as Bert put it.
Bert grew up in the Okavango Delta area and later spent 13 years with the Maasai in the Serengeti. The Maasai don’t bury their dead, rather leaving them for the hyenas. ‘A spotted hyena toilet looks like a second-hand furniture store because it will eat bits of rocks and wood, whatever it needs to get at all the bodily fluids,’ he said.
‘But it’s a destructive killer because it kills again and again for no reason – that’s why it’s so hated by farmers. It kills by severing arteries in the neck so the prey bleeds out. Then it skins the prey with its claws so you can always tell a caracal kill.’
- Find Jukani just off the N2 about 10km east of Plettenberg Bay (see map and directions above).
- Unless you’re a big group of more than 15, you can simply rock up. Tours run every 15 or 20 minutes so it won’t take long before there’s one for you to join. A tour takes about 90 minutes.
- Jukani opens at 9:00 every day of the week, including Sundays. The last tour leaves at 16:00.
- There’s a shop and restaurant on site and plenty of parking.
- You can buy a ticket just for Jukani, or a reduced-rate cluster ticket that will also give you access to SAASA sister sanctuaries in the area, Monkeyland and Birds of Eden.