Championing Cheetahs




What a magnificent creature

Championing Cheetahs in South Africa

Cheetahs—such lean and dignified, regal-looking, creatures.

The logo at Cheetah Outreach is: See it. Sense it. Save it.

You can still see a few cheetahs in the wild in southern Africa (and a small part of Iran) but the numbers are severely reduced (from an estimated 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century, to about 6,600 today) and the threat of extinction hangs heavy.


Some people are about to begin a cheetah encounter


Various animal encounters are possible

So, on our last visit to the Cape in South Africa we were very happy to visit a new (to us) place called Cheetah Outreach. It’s in Paardevlei, on the south side of Somerset West (about 40 minutes from Cape Town airport), and is well worth a visit. Plan to spend a couple of hours, more if you’d like to do any of the animal encounters or if you stop to chat to any of the animal keepers, which you more than likely will do.

Entrance is R5 per person (less than US$0.50), regardless of age. You pay extra for the various animal encounters.


dogsignThe animals are in big grassy enclosures arranged in a rough oval around a central area, and in one of them there’s a viewing stand to watch the herding/guarding dogs. In the center grassy strip is a small mobile tea/coffee stand, where we had coffee and watched some visitors going into an enclosure nearby with a keeper and being entertained by the antics of the animal.

This is not a large place but seemed well organized and they are doing a great thing.



Black-backed jackal


Grace, the caracal

The focus is on the cheetahs but they have other animals too—meerkats, bat-eared foxes, caracals, serval, the special Anatolian Shepherd herding dogs, and jackals. There are paid staff, but they also have local volunteers and volunteers from around the world—we had one girl from Australia explaining things to us. The keepers are knowledgeable and tell lots of information about “their” animal, so it feels quite personal. We felt very privileged to see these animals up close and to find out their histories.


One of the bat-eared foxes waits for the keeper, who’s bringing food


The 3 foxes–Janet, Diggory and Firefox–rush to the gate


The keeper feeding the 3 bat-eared foxes

Cheetah Outreach was founded by Annie Beckhellig in January 1997 on a hectare of land (roughly 2.5 acres) provided by Spier Wine Estates. In the first year, the program reached more than 50,000 people, by traveling to educational facilities and other places with Shadow, a young male cheetah. It has successfully expanded and evolved since then.

The mission of Cheetah Outreach is “to promote the survival of the free ranging Southern African cheetah through environmental education and delivering in-situ conservation initiatives.”

Why is this necessary?

The cheetah is threatened with extinction for many reasons: loss of habitat and decrease in prey; presence of other large predators in protected areas, leading to competition for survival; conflict with livestock and game farmers; fragmentation of population, leading to inbreeding and number depletion; lack of self-sustaining captive population; public lack of knowledge.


Even young kids are fascinated by the cheetahs and other animals


This is either Lazarus or Liberty, the serval


And this is the other serval—Lazarus or Liberty?

This Cheetah Outreach is trying to address all of the above factors. School outreach and teacher training workshops are a major part of this, as are funding and co-ordinating a South African Cheetah Anatolian Shepherd Guard Dog project. These dogs are trained to guard livestock from cheetahs and other predators. Initially the dogs worked with sheep and goats, but recently the program has been extended to cattle and even on African game (mostly nyala and springbok) farms. The project helps with buying, breeding, veterinary support, and training of these working dogs, which will help in non-lethal predator control.


Black-backed jackal relaxing


Grace the caracal enjoys a snack

Another extremely important part of their program is using the cheetahs themselves as Ambassadors. Cheetah Outreach has hand-reared captive-born cheetah that are used for this. These lovely creatures can give people the opportunity to see and meet these cats up close, and to learn to care about them and their future. Not all cats are suitable for release back into the wild, but they do make great ambassadors! With the Ann Van Dyck Cheetah and Wildlife Centre, they train cheetah cubs as ambassadors for educational programs around the world. And in fact, some of the other animals are ambassadors too: the servals and meerkats, for example. For us, they could all be ambassadors!

On the way out you pass through a pretty good shop—cash only, but there is a handy ATM right there!


Information about the cheetah’s body, built for speed

 Fun Facts About Cheetahs

—the partnership between cheetah and man is ancient, dating from Cleopatra’s time. Ancient Egyptians believed that a cheetah would carry the pharaoh’s soul to the afterworld

—the cheetah is the oldest big cat on earth at 3.5-4 million years.

—the oldest fossil remains have been found in Wyoming, Texas and Nevada in USA

—the cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal. Its top speed is 110/120 km/h (68/75 m/h) and it can accelerate from 0-80km/h (50m/h) in 3 seconds (that equals the Formula 1 Ferrari in 1999).

–the cheetah’s stride is 7-8 meters (23-24 feet)servalsign

—an adult cheetah has over 2000 spots

—cheetahs are Africa’s most threatened great cat

Find out lots more about cheetahs and the Cheetah Outreach on their excellent website. Learn about the animals and see many photos.





Today is World Elephant Day


Tasty grass in Masai Mara, Kenya


Tasty bush in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park, South Africa


Masai Mara grass plains

Fifth Annual World Elephant Day, August 12, 2016.

Bringing the World Together to Help Elephants

The first World Elephant Day was on August 12, 2012, and many organizations around the world are trying to help the plight of the elephants, such as WWF, Save the Elephants, and International Elephant Foundation.

In honor of this day and these animals, I found some of our pictures taken at different times. Enjoy!


Water hole at Pilansberg National Park, South Africa


Drinking at the water hole, Pilansberg


At Pilansberg


Follow the leader, Masai Mara

World Elephant Day is a celebration of these animals and a call for the protection of the giant creatures and a promotion of conservation. The African elephant weights roughly 22,000 pounds and is the largest land animal: the Asian elephant is smaller at 10,000 pounds. This great size has not prevented their decimation, however. Nor has the fact that elephants have been potent cultural symbols worldwide, especially in Buddhist and Hindu lore and religion.


Sand bath about to begin at Hluhluwe=Umfolozi


“Gotta get rid of this itch”, Pilansberg


Babies, Pilansberg

Like so many of the wonderful animal and plant species on our earth, elephants are endangered. According to the official World Elephant Day website, only 40,000 Asian elephants remain worldwide, and only 400,000 African elephants.

We are from southern Africa and love all the wildlife there, but I’ve always had a special soft spot for elephants. These huge creatures have an amazing social system, they are very intelligent—it’s been shown that they have feelings of empathy, grief for lost loved ones, an understanding of teamwork, and an ability to use tools.

On our many trips to various National Parks in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya we’ve spent countless hours watching these giant creatures—and at times, many hours waiting for them to move off the road! It’s a lot of fun to watch elephants and their interactions in a group (from a safe place, of course). We’ve seen them on the grass plains, in wooded thickets, around water holes, and they are magnificent wherever they are.



One of the main reasons these (mostly) gentle giants are endangered is because of their ivory tusks, which are coveted in some parts of the world, leading to a huge illegal market in ivory. Other reasons are habitat loss and human-elephant conflict, usually over territory and crops. But I’ve also heard reports about elephants dying when hit by a speeding train in India.

What can we, as ordinary individuals, do to help?

—Support a ban on ivory trade

—Support any measures that will help stop poaching of elephants

–Support measures to conserve elephant habitats

–Ensure that captive elephants are treated properly

—Donate to one of the organizations if you are able

Following is a nice series of an elephant slowly sauntering along the road in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park. You definitely wait until he/she decides to get off the road!



“Perhaps I’ll cross now”…


…”but maybe I’ll go on this side rather.”

Here is some information taken from the official website. It’s both sobering and encouraging reading.


Ivory Trade

In 1989, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) issued an international ban on the ivory trade.

2013 saw the greatest quantity of ivory confiscated in the last 25 years.

The street value of a single tusk is approximately US$15,000.

The main market for illegal ivory is China, where a single tusk can fetch $100,000–200,000.

Tusks are found in African elephants of both sexes while only in Asian males.

An African bull’s tusks can grow to over 11 feet long and weigh 220 pounds.

May 2016, Kenya showed that it has zero-tolerance for the illegal ivory trade by torching 105 tons worth of ivory. The largest ivory burn in history.

June 2, 2016, US adopts a near-total ivory ban.

China has made several steps that indicate it might be heading towards a complete ban of commercial ivory.”





July 2016: MEADOWBROOK PARK in Urbana

The Landscape as it used to be in Illinois. Remember, Illinois’ nick-name (one of them) is the Prairie State, as hundreds of years ago much of the state was covered in tall-grass prairie.

We are lucky, as in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, there are many wonderful parks, but in our opinion this is Number #1.

Meadowbrook Park is a 130-acre park with a difference, beloved by the locals, including us! It has the usual facilities, like picnic areas and a large field for ball play. But, the kids’ play structures are different to usual playgrounds—super-sized, and made of wood.



PA291402.JPGMore unusual are the large area of Restored Prairie, and the Wandell Sculpture Garden, a series of large-scale outdoor sculptures that line the three miles of walking trails and fit beautifully into their outdoor setting. The trails wander through and around a broad swathe of re-created tallgrass prairie, and organic and wildflower gardens, plus a large herb garden, and community garden plots. Each sculpture has a plaque with its name and the name of the sculptor, and it’s a lot of fun to wander along the paths and stop to admire the sculptures—some colorful, some whimsical, all interesting. The Celia and Willet Wandell Sculpture Garden opened in 1998, made possible by the Wandell family and donations from area businesses and local supporters. Some of the sculptures are owned by Urbana Park District as part of the permanent collection, and some are on a two-year loan from the artists.





See the butterfly on the coneflower

Meadowbrook Park is lovely at any time of the year, but is really gorgeous now, at the height of summer. Tall, bright green grasses cover the fields across to the trees ringing the area. But the dominant color is not just green. Colorful wild flowers, massed, swaying slightly in the breeze, attract bees and birds. We watched a redwing blackbird perch atop a tall stalk with huge yellow flowers, nearby a small sparrow chirped on a bush with some other yellow flowers, a hummingbird hovered, and butterflies fluttered. White Queen Anne’s Lace, aptly named, polka-dots the green, along with pinkish Echinacea, bright blue cornflowers, and masses of purple and yellow, daisy-like wild flowers.


Queen Anne’s Lace



See the tiny hummingbird 

Sometimes you can hear a Chinese pheasant calling and watch for the deer, which are usually here, munching calmly, unworried by humans. A small brook runs through parts of the park and at times there have been beavers who’ve made a dam there.

If this kind of vegetation covered these prairies in days gone by, before the settlers came in and cleared it for farmland, the sight must have been truly awesome.



P7210043.JPGPeople come to walk, to run, to roller-blade or ride bicylces. They walk dogs and push strollers and near the pavilions people can picnic.

Whenever we walk, other runners, walkers, cyclists and dog-walkers pass us. Everyone smiles and greets us, the spirit seems relaxed and friendly. We are soothed by the beauty and perfection of this piece of Nature we are privileged to share.




Entrance to the cellar


Wine tasting

Tasting and Eating at Lourensford Wine Estate is a Gourmet Experience

You can’t go wrong here

As I mentioned in the previous post, this is a lovely wine estate in so many ways; it’s easy to get to, has gorgeous views of the mountains, lovely white Cape-Dutch buildings, excellent wines and wine tasting, a snack shop, a very nice restaurant, a coffee shop and a weekend market.


Lunch out on the patio


The River Garden wine at lunch

Last year we did the wine tasting at Lourensford and then had lunch at their Millhouse Kitchen Restaurant, when we could sit outside, as it was warm and sunny. This year, we didn’t do the wine tasting because we had young children with us, who were clamoring for lunch! The Millhouse Kitchen Restaurant was great again, but we sat inside, as it was June (their winter) and the wind was a bit chilly.

The estate offers Wine Tasting and Wine Sales daily (except Christmas Day and Easter Friday) 9am-5pm. Winery Tours are by appointment only. You can taste at a counter in the Tasting Room in the cellar building complex or sit on the thick green lawns outside in the shade, next to the small water fountains. We opted for outside, and the young man was very happy to carry out the wines to a picnic bench for our party of 4.


Enjoying wine tasting

I have to say that this was one of our most enjoyable wine tastings last year. For R40 per person, you can taste any 5 wines (that fee is waived with a wine purchase). We compared 2 sauvignon blancs, and tasted a viognier and 2 reds (a shiraz and a cab/merlot blend). The young guy was knowledgeable about the wines and the harvests and explained in detail, and the setting was/is superb. The wines are also excellent. He brought the wines out in the order we marked on our tasting sheets, changed glasses for the reds, and gave us two glasses to compare the sauvignon blancs. All very nice.



2RARunchThe Millhouse Kitchen is run by chef Bjorn Guido, whose aim is “to create a neighbourhood feel where his guests can relax and enjoy each other’s company in the beautiful setting of the Lourensford Wine Estate.” I’d say that he succeeds admirably, as the ambience and décor are great, and the servers are all so friendly and relaxed that you do feel at home. The menu is inspired by French and Italian rustic cooking, with an emphasis on fresh pasta, bread and wood-fired pizzas.

Last year for lunch, Rod had a biltong pizza, with biltong, brie and preserved figs, which he pronounced amazing. So this year, he and Kev were hoping for that again, but sadly it wasn’t on the menu!



2bigburger2platterWe tested the antipasti plank, the burger (huge) and a number of pizzas (all delicious). I had spinach, olives and sun-dried tomatoes pizza, and Joanna one with roasted butternut, but that one is not always on the menu, as it’s seasonal.

The house wines are the Lourensford River Garden range, which are very good too. A bottle of sauvignon blanc in the restaurant was R125 (at the exchange rate at the time, that was about US$8.50!). The same bottle to buy in the Tasting Room was R65 (about US$4.50!)2pizza

The Millhouse Restaurant is closed Mondays. Tues-Sat, Breakfast 8:30-10:30am; lunch 12 noon-3 pm; dinner 6:30pm-10pm. Sundays open 8:30-5pm (orders close at 3pm) A “light bites” menu is available for those in between hours.





Lourensford Wine Estate, nicknamed “Jewel of the Cape Winelands

One of our favorite Wine Estates, and very accessible

Founded in 1700, this lovely estate lies just below the Helderberg Mountains on the


Slave bell

outskirts of the town of Somerset West (but is listed under the Stellenbosch wine route). It was once part of Adriaan van der Stel’s Vergelegen Estate nearby, so it’s steeped in history and heritage but nowadays it also uses ultra-modern wine technology. One of the historical pieces is the old Slave Bell, used in the past to summon the slaves when needed.



Saying hallo to a Cape buffalo


A metal horse


Vine art

Lourensford has extensive, beautifully-tended gardens and a number of whimsical outdoor sculptures (some made of metal, some of huge old vines), all with the backdrop of mountains. It’s gorgeously “Cape”—in fact, I’ve almost never seen other wine areas anywhere else in the world that look quite as lovely as this. Some are more dramatic (Switzerland), others vaster (France), others on rivers (France, Germany). Maybe it’s the combination of setting and the Cape-Dutch architecture—green nature and white buildings. Whatever it is, it’s beautiful and a great place to relax, soak in the outdoors, enjoy a tasty meal and taste world-class wines.

Lourensford is a very large estate that offers a lot for the visitor. There’s the Tasting Room with a mini cellar tour; the Millhouse Restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and a kids’ playground; a shop, a pottery shop, an art gallery and a coffee roasting company, which is a whole other tasting experience. Plus, there are trails and walks through the vines and up into the foothills (there are a couple of known leopards there)—in addition to rambling the Estate’s own gardens and emerald green lawns. They also cater for events—our nephew got married here and said the Estate people were pleasant to deal with.



Coffee Roasting Company

coffeesignIt’s well worth a visit and we suggest you allocate many hours, as each part of the visit is very leisurely—don’t try to be in a rush.

Besides wine tasting, and eating in the restaurant (see next post), you should definitely visit the Coffee Roasting Company (open daily 9-5). They roast on site, giving the room that warm, smokey aroma of ground coffee. It sells coffee beans to go, as well as being a small café, with some pastries, and a few gift items, like teas, coffees, chocolates, preserves, a few souvenirs, and sometimes a lovely series of kids’ books called “In the Land of Kachoo”, about African animals.


One family group


Another family group


Inside the Coffee Roasting Company

Many local people come to the Coffee Roasting Company just for the coffee, to buy bags of coffee specially roasted to go, or to sip and savor coffee in the sun under a vine trellis or other fruit trees. That’s what we did late one March, and it was a lovely outing for our multi-generational group. We did the same again this June.

There’s the Harvest Market on Sundays too.

The winelands have many markets and


Lourensford hosts theirs on a Sunday from 9am to 3pm. It has a rustic setting at the edge of the lawns, where they’ve set up a set of wooden stands with a permanent roof structure, making it an all-weather market. You can find many different items—-from delicious foods like Lebanese hummus, to real Ginger Beer and fresh eggs, to colored glassware and aromatic coffees. Of course you can enjoy the Lourensford Wine, as well as the new Beer—ABRU—made on the premises by the Aleit Hospitality group. Come and relax and enjoy the live music and while away a Sunday in Somerset West.


Coffee etc for sale

The estate is open daily and entrance into the grounds is free.




African Cotton Thread Art


These ear-rings are exquisite little works of art

2closerSouth African artists are well-known for making wonderful arts and crafts, some of the most famous probably being beautiful batik prints with African scenes and really intricate pieces (often animals) done in colorful beadwork. And of course, very life-like carvings of Africa’s wildlife animals and people’s faces in wood or stone.

Another pretty craft I’ve discovered in recent years is pin thread art, also called pin thread sculpture, and if you look closely you can see why—some of the pieces do look almost three-dimensional. This special technique is used mainly in jewellery, especially in ear-rings and pendants, and we see an amazing array of colors, sizes and geometric contours. The founder of this special art form is Aaron Ndaba, and his family—wonderfully creative, I’d say.

You can find these pieces at many African curio shops, notably “Out of Africa” (there’s a large branch at O.Tambo Airport in Johannesburg). I love the ear-rings and try to find a couple of new pairs each time we return to visit South Africa.



Abby the giraffe approaches


Holding the bucket of corn/maize


Giraffe candy!

Feeding a Giraffe in South Africa

This event made me think of the classic children’s book “If you feed a moose a muffin”. So…”If you give a giraffe a gift of corn”.

Only 23 km east of East London city center in South Africa is an unexpected surprise for the kids and for wild animal lovers—a small nature reserve called Areena. Areena is billed as a Riverside Resort, on the banks of the Kwelera tidal river. There are a variety of accommodations, a restaurant and pub, and all kinds of adventure activities (river cruises, kayak trails, mountain biking, abseiling, archery, horse-riding, zip-lines etc).



But what drew our hosts, Mike and Margie, to Areena were the wild animals—-wildebees, zebra, impala, ostrich. And especially the giraffe. The reserve has three giraffe and one is particularly tame as he was hand-reared because his mother was shot. They told us that it’s hard to tell the gender when giraffes are babies. They thought this baby was a female and named her Abby, but turned out she was a he!

At certain times of day a game ranger finds Abby


and brings him to a big open paddock and people can pay to have a Giraffe Experience. Our granddaughter (aged 6) was ecstatic to have this unusual opportunity to pat and feed a giraffe. Matthew the ranger helped her feed Abbey a bucket of dried maize (corn) kernels—giraffe candy! She was then able to stand on the fence and pat Abby. The rest of our party was pretty happy to have this experience too!

What a special adventure!


An almost giraffe “kiss”

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