As a life-long animal lover, one of the things that consistently amazed me about South Africa was the many and varied ways to interact with animals. Off a quiet road outside of Hluhluwe in KwaZulu-Natal, a visit to the Emdoneni Cat Rehabilitation Centre is a fun, educational way to interact with Africa’s most charming cats – big and small.
I’ll cut right to the chase: you get to interact directly with the cats. Some are more friendly than others, and it’s very well supervised by Emdoneni’s staff. They work with these animals every day, and know the best and safest ways to interact with them.
Emdoneni is home to four different kinds of African cats: African Wildcats, Caracals, Servals and Cheetahs. Over the course of the tour (R180 or CAD$21), you spend time learning about the individual species, how to interact with them safely and what their lives are like, both in the wild and at the Centre.
Behold, the fearsome creature!
The little one, on the right. We started small with the African Wildcats, which are wild throughout Africa. I was told by several people that the wildcats have gotten mixed in with the domestic cats, but I couldn’t verify the authenticity of the suggestion. The African Wildcat gang at Emdoneni were curious and friendly. Pretty much like every cat I met in South Africa.
A surly Caracal
Moving on to the caracals, there had been a couple of births in the days preceding our visit, so some of the pairs were separated. This led to some surliness on the part of the new dads.
We didn’t spend a lot of time with these guys, just enough to learn a little more about them and have a close encounter with one while he stalked around us in a figure-eight style and emitted a low growl.
When you lie down with Cheetahs
Moving on, we got to the big show, the cheetah experience. Emdoneni has a pretty large group of cheetahs, and visitors can interact with a pair of the cuddlier males, Moya and Juba. Moya greeted us with with a nice roll on the ground.
We were given thorough instructions for how to approach the cheetahs and how to interact with them, because we were going to lie down on the ground with them. It was lovely. Laying on the ground with Juba, he started purring loudly, loudly enough to reverberate through the ground under us.
Juba finally relented and let me up. We walked around with the boys for a little while, then left them to stalk something they saw in the nearby greenery.
A quick goodbye with the Servals
By the time we got to the servals, they were interested in their visitors, but maybe a little put out that they were saved for last.
Since the servals were clustered together, we had to approach the far wall of their enclosure, so it was just the group of us. They didn’t seem overly impressed, so we did our best to keep a safe distance.
Our time with the servals didn’t reach the charming heights of our time with the cheetahs, but these guys win for leaving an impression. When hanging out with servals, always look overhead. There could be someone waiting for you.
Whether you like big cats, little cats or the thrill of stepping in a cage with a cheetah, a trip to Emdoneni will be sure to leave a lasting impression.
See for yourself:
Emdoneni Lodge and Cat Rehabilitation Centre
Near Bushlands, KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa