Lions and Tigers
and Cheetahs,
Oh My...
Lori and I with Chewbacca.
Here, cheetah cheetah.
Even lions need a catnap.
July 11, 2006

At 6:45am we woke up to get ready for our first day of work. Actually, orientation. We were all pretty excited about finding out
what our roles were going to be for the next nine or so days at the Cango Wildlife Ranch here in Oudtshoorn. To be honest, this
almost feels like being on
The Real World or something like that. They find out where they’re working yet they have no idea
what they’re going to be doing. And everybody (for the most part) is practically a stranger with the exception of the few days
that you have gotten to know them. I’m just calling this ‘The Real World: South Africa’. Angela was thinking about ‘Survivor:
Oudtshoorn’ which does have a nice ring to it though I think it’s a stretch saying that our survival depends on throwing a
match into one of four fireplaces here and making dinners out of the basic groceries we have purchased. In any case, last night
definitely felt like
Road Rules. While we were eating, we were given a note by the owner of the hostel that only said to be at
Cango at 7:50am and to ask for Odette or Garth. Ohhh...the mystery. I was loving it!

As we headed out this morning (before the sun had even made an appearance) there was the weirdest weather phenomenon.
It was cold out yet there was the warmest breeze. It was bizarre but at the same time it was awesome as we were all freezing.

We arrived at Cango Wildlife Ranch at 7:50am on the dot. We were eager to make a good impression (as the last bunch of i-to-i
volunteers left a not-so-good impression). We were given a brief tour of the ‘ranch’ before heading off with Chris in the back of
a pickup truck to go to the cheetah breeding center. Chris is the cheetah curator and he introduced us to all of the cheetahs.
There were a couple of meanies…but there were also several pussy cats (pardon the pun). Some were used to the human
interaction because they used to be part of the ranch. Those were the ones that we scratched behind their ears and stroked
their backs. There were also a couple that just loved to kiss. If you think a kitty cat’s tongue is like sandpaper, can you imagine
was this was like? In a way, it almost tingled. Most of the cheetahs were given their own cage. Chris told us that they are highly
adaptable to changes. It only took one month of him working there for all of the cheetahs to fully take to him. I asked why
there was the need for this facility as opposed to them being in the wild. Basically, in Namibia (where most of these cats were
from) the population is out of control. This is to avoid the extreme measures that places might take to keep the population
down. While this is a newer facility, they sadly don’t have the experience yet to be able to set these animals back out to the
wild. They will be in captivity for the rest of their kitty lives. There
is a facility in another city in South Africa where they do
get them ready to go back into the wild. That was nice to hear. Ever since I went on a safari last year, I have become
somewhat anti-zoo. I just don’t think it’s fair to take these animals out of their natural habitat though I do understand that
zoos and other places are able to do research that is very important. Ohhh, it’s so easy to be torn about so many things…

After we came back from the cheetah area (literally standing in the back of the pickup even on the highway), we went on the
tour with the general public to see what they see. We saw crocodiles (who have their mouths open at rest because it only takes
four muscles versus the forty muscles it takes to keep their mouths shut), pygmy hippos, flamingos, ring-tailed lemurs,
cheetahs, white tigers, a jaguar (gorgeous) and…my favorite…little Humphrey – the four month old pygmy hippo. He is
actually known to have a love of football and rooted for Ghana (coincidentally) in the World Cup since that’s where his
ancestors are from. He’s even known to be quite a good football player himself. And I am actually quite serious about this.
Funny, huh?

We were supposed to be introduced to the reptile curator but he was busy with a snake (I considered us lucky as I am not a
huge fan of snakes) so now we were put with Francois, the tiger curator. We walked off the premises and in about fifteen
minutes we walked behind more ‘Keep Out’ gates to where the white tigers are kept. These are the parents of the two ‘tiger
cubs’ in the ranch (it’s hard to believe that the cubs are only eleven months old as the are quite large). Francois told us
interesting facts about them such as a yellow tiger can give birth to a white tiger and vice versa. The white tiger can be
compared to somebody being blonde. It’s just a recessive gene. This was news to me as I always just assumed that they were
two different ‘types’ of tigers. Also while lions and cheetahs have the personality of cats, the tigers have the personality of dogs
(very playful). No wonder why I liked the tiger so much. The two rules with tigers are that you never walk right in front of
them with your back towards them and you never get lower than them. We learned so much more than I’m forgetting right
now but will write down in detail as I recall these facts.

After lunch, Francois took us behind the scenes of the ranch to show us the different cheetahs, lions, tigers and the lone jaguar
that are viewable to the public. Instead of only being able to see them overhead, we got to see them by walking right next to
their cages. The cheetahs were, once again, little pussy cats and we were able to pet them through the fence. The rest we kept
a little bit of distance from when they came towards the cage. We were especially warned about the oh-so-beautiful jaguar.
This cat is the third largest next to lions and tigers and its pattern puts a cheetah’s to shame by far. One interesting fact that
we learned/saw was that the jaguar always walks on the same path that it always does – it never goes off course. We saw the
oval path that it had broken in over time. We saw the lions (one male and three female). We learned that male lions have
vasectomy’s most of the time (when it’s necessary) because castration causes them to lose their mane. Who knew?

Now it was time to go back with Chris to do the feedings over at the cheetah breeding center. Everybody hopped into the back
of the pickup truck and had a weird look on their face when they got in. I hopped up and, just as quickly, I hopped down. “I can’
t go in there.” While there have been many things I have been able to force myself to go outside of my comfort zone to do, this
proved to not be one of them. In addition to the bowls of sliced up meat for the animals (mostly donkey and calf mixed with
vitamins), there were also four calf carcasses right there on the floor of the truck (the one for the cheetahs was skinned, the
other three for the wild dogs were not). I mean I can’t even handle seeing a dead bird in the street without getting grossed out.
Imagine how
this made me feel. It was no problem at all for Chris to have me ride in the front seat.

The wild dogs were the first to be fed. The guys threw the carcass in and the dogs came. Excuse the visual as I say that they
ripped this thing apart. The same thing happened when we threw in the next two for the other dogs. Then we went to feed the
cheetahs who get much more aggressive at feeding time than they were earlier in the day. One would think that they would act
a little bit like pets and appreciate the person who is giving them the food…but it is actually quite the contrary. We fed a few
more less interesting animals and were on our way back to the ranch.

Now we got to take advantage of one of the perks of our stint here. We got to go in the cages with the cheetahs and the white
tigers. Lori and I went in together and rubbed the head and back of the cheetah and just the back of the tigers (they will
attempt to ‘play’ if being rubbed on their heads). Our favorite was Chewbacca, the white tiger. Another interesting thing about
the white tiger was that I almost thought their stripes were black. But they aren’t. They are actually brown.

We went home from our first day on the ranch. We still don’t know exactly what we are doing tomorrow when ‘work’ actually
starts but we are all looking forward to it. In the meantime, I don’t think it is too shocking that I opted for vegetarian pizza at
dinner tonight…
Back to South Africa.