Unfortunately during my three weeks in Africa, wifi was very scarce, and I had no way to upload pictures to make decent blog posts. So, without further ado, after settling back into America, here is my three weeks worth of African adventures and pictures!
And so. After enduring the longest flight of my life (15 hours), watching countless inflight movies, and watching my ankles swell up after sitting for so long, I was standing at customs in OR Johannesburg National Airport. Clutching my sleeping bag and wearing my brand new adventure backpack that I bought just for the trip, I waited to finally catch my first glimpse of Africa, other than from the airplane window. Once I was finally free I went to the meeting point where I was told our guide, Roean, would be waiting. Unfortunately he was’t there yet, but my confused American face must have been very obvious because not soon after, Paulien, another girl from my group, approached me and asked if I was with Eco-Life. When I eagerly nodded my head, we both laughed and introduced ourselves. Paulien, a fourth year vet student from Belgium, is a very eccentric and funny girl. We were chatting and laughing about how we’re both tall and share similar names when Roean approached us, followed by Kelsey, an American girl from Massachusetts. After a quick introduction, our small group was off, leaving the Johannesburg airport and entering into the African sun. I wasn’t able to see much of the city because we took the highway out, but the airport itself is very modern and beautiful. Once packed inside the bakkie (a South African term for a type of pickup truck), we took a long road out into the country, driving for some time through the red dirt and shrubbery. Combined with the hills and dusty rocks, it looked remarkably similar to Colorado.
Our first stop was the Dell Cheetah Centre, a cheetah breeding facility in the Free State province. A short dirt road trip took us to the facility, where the owner came out to greet us. Here we are by the facility sign.
After a short lecture in which the owner described the differences between cheetahs and leopards, why the need for cheetah breeding exists, and the problems that cheetahs face, he introduced us to his animals. I’ll recount what I wrote in my journal from what the owner told us.
“He told us the history of the project and the many characteristics of a cheetah that make it a difficult animal to breed. 1) They all most likely came from the same gene pool so the inbreeding from that caused very low male sperm efficiency. 2) Artificial insemination is almost impossible just because of cheetah breeding habits. 3) In vitro fertilization is very costly.”
The first animal he showed us was Tigger, a serval who was abandoned by the people who adopted him as a kitten, as was the case for the caracal that he showed us next. Then we got to meet Raphael, a cheetah that he raised by hand. We got to pet Raphael and the owner explained how he used Raphael for breeding.
After we thought the tour was finished, the owner decided to surprise us with his newest addition to the centre…
He was super cute and a big doofus. Hyenas definitely get a bad rap – he was a funny little guy.
After buying groceries, we checked into our lodge for the night. It was very nice and on a private game reserve. One thing that I was completely unprepared for was HOW COLD Africa can be! I thought I was going to freeze to death at night, even with three sweaters and layers of blankets and my sleeping bag. I was so angry that I brought so many summer clothes, but thankfully after two nights we drove to a different area and from then on all the days were nice and warm (even very hot) and the nights chilly. It was definitely odd sweating in an area when it was the dead of winter.