New Home for Cheetah Experience
From Bloemfontein to Bela-Bela
Crazy last week!
We managed to stick to the timeline and move the rest of lion side as planned!
It was almost as if the animals just knew what was going on, the whole process went almost without a hitch! With the exception of the bus breaking down, but more on that later!!
Let us tell you how proud we are of the animals!
The leopards had all been crate trained over the last few months, we had placed their travel crates inside the enclosures by the gates to the feeding camps. The leopards had then to walk through the crates to move in and out of the feeding camps, and did so with no worries. We then began to close one end of the crate, and positively reinforce their co-operation, as they grew comfortable we closed the crate with the leopard inside building up their comfort. On the day of the leopard move ALL of the leopards waltzed straight into the crates, they were closed and secured within less than 30 seconds!! With the exception of Gemini who decided she wanted to play a little, Gemini did however still only take 7 minutes to fully crate. All of the leopards were secured and loaded in the vehicles in around 30 minutes, we were so happy!!
The trip with the leopards took 2 vehicles, 7 hours and 3 people! Everything went really smoothly, we managed to offload the leopards without a hitch, initially they stayed in individual feeding camps to allow them time to settle after the relocation, but after a few days the leopard friends were reunited and allowed to explore their new enclosures.
The next trip saw us taking the wolfs, goats and chickens, the wolfies walked to the bus on their leashes and jumped into the crates. The chickens we crated while it was still quite dark, the goats also walked to the bus. This trip however wasn't as smooth as the others, the bus broke down just outside Kroonstaad. Although we got to a mechanic and got the go ahead to continue we broke down again. In the end a few vehicles had to drive down from Bela Bela to help get us to the new farm. We had to offload in the dark, the wolfies did not at all mind, they excitedly ran around exploring! The goats were housed in a babyroom overnight, while the chickens were let out into their camp.
After moving the goats to their enclosure in the morning, and making sure everyone was happy and settled we headed back to Bloemfontein for the final leg of the move!
Our last night in Bloemfontein was both sad and strange, soon we would be saying goodbye to our old farm. The stress of the move was nearly over!
Tuesday morning dawned with so much to do. There was actually no time to dwell on the finality of the whole process, with so much to do that morning before we could load the animals and get on the road. We had to load the last of the meatroom goods the things we had been using to the last moment, the furniture and personal goods the staff still needed, animal items such as food and water bowls, toys and housing. Once all of the trailers were loaded we got organised to crate all of the remaining animals.
The servals, caracals, bat eared foxes, wildcats and meerkats were the last ones standing! We started with Mikey and Cassidy, the predicted more difficult ones... It took a bit of time but when they finally decided to go into the crates we were able to get on with the others. The rest of the animals took about half an hour to load. a lot of planning had gone into deciding who could travel next to who, who needed to travel singularly or with a friend, some animals needed additional comfort/supervision such as Lyra who was booked in for an operation the following day. The foxes are naturally nervous, as is Jasper. Once everyone was comfortable and safely where they were meant to be we hit the road for the final thing.
Driving out the front gate for the last time should have been more emotional, but with the animals still settling in the vehicles there was no time to dwell.
With 3 vehicles, 7 staff and 23 animals it was a mission! All of the animals travelled well, the relief as we pulled into the front gate in Bela Bela was immediate!
Over the next few days/weeks both the staff and animals settled into their new homes with new routines being created!
The animals quickly settled in, and started to enjoy the new enclosures filled with trees and bushes. It was wonderful to finally see them enjoy the hard work that everyone had put in over the last year.
The Final Steps!
Once the lions and tiger had been sucessfully relocated to their new enclosures it was now time to complete the rest of the lionside enclosures.
The leopards, wolves, goats, servals, chickens, caracals, foxes, wildcats and meerkats were all still in Bloemfontein with 2 of our staff members.
It is hard to explain how strange the whole experience of our project being split down the middle was... When the cheetahs left Bloemfontein in September, we had a clear split down the middle of the project, not just with the animals, but also the staff. All of the cheetah side staff moved to Bela Bela with the cheetahs.
For the next 6 months the staff in Bela Bela were helping with all of the building work and getting ready for lionside to move, while back in Bloemfontein the staff were looking after the animals and the farm on that side.
There was a lot of packing up on the farm in Bloemfontein, it had been our home since 2006... We dismantled houses and structures that we wanted to relocate with us, packed up the animals toys and familiar items, as well as packing up the vet clinic and volunteer house. Lots of trips up and down with furniture and boxes!!
It was a very strange and stressful time for all, but especially for Riana. In the midst of the pandemic we had no volunteers, no income from tours/volunteers, 2 farms to manage and pay for as well as the building up of the new farm. Riana was based in Bela Bela, over seeing the building, she wanted nothing more than for the whole family to be reunited.
With the end in sight Riana and the team found the strength to keep going.
Everyone worked really hard to get everything completed, enclosures were finished and final checks were done, we were ready to finalise the last moving plans!
Our plans were as follows:
Day 1 - Crate and relocate leopards
Day 2 - settle in, leopards then drive to Bloemfontein
Day 3 - Crate and relocate wolves, goats and chickens
Day 4 - settle in, then drive to Bloemfontein
Day 5 - pack final things on farm, crate and relocate servals, caracals, wildcats, foxes and meerkats!
Day 6 - Breathe!
Now remember its a 6/7 hour drive from Bloemfontein to Bela Bela, so our plans were crazy but organised!
Crates were named and put by the enclosures, plans were written down and ready to go!
Despite all of the business and activity there was also a sense of calm that no one expected..
The cheetahs, lions and tiger moves all went so so well, the animals all settled in and loved their new home. Enclosures were completed and everything was packed... At a time where you would think that it would be especially stressful, there was no stress... Everything was falling in place, we were ready!
In addition to our cheetah and other big/small cats we are home to 2 donkeys - Sonny and Cher!
Moving donkeys is more complicated than moving the big cats, we first had to find a horse box to relocate the donkeys from Bloemfontein to Bela Bela. Its not quite as easy as loading the cats crates onto one of our vehicles! Still, should be easy right... just call around and someone will have a horsebox for hire...
Unfortunately we struggled to find anyone that could help us, most hire companies did not have any available, and the companies that did have horse boxes, said they were out of service currently.
In the end Riana managed to find a trailer for sale and decided that since it was so difficult to find one, it would be better for us to have our own.
Transport sorted, next step was to load the donkeys..
Donkeys are known to be stubborn, and stubborn these two were! It took us around 1.5hrs to load them onto the trailer!
Patience is the key, Sonny and Cher were not used to trailers, so we walked them round the field and approached the trailer, they would step onto the ramp then change their mind. We allowed the 2 donkeys to get used to the trailer and went at their pace. There was no real rush.. We had carrots and apples and time....
After 1 and a half hours they both just decided it was fine and they were loaded and ready to leave.
On the journey they were really relaxed, just dozing or watching out. When they arrived at Bela Bela they stepped off the trailer and immediately started to eat the grass!
They are now happily eating their way through the day like donkeys are supposed to! They have access to a nice big open area with really tasty veld grass to keep them busy!
Building Lionside & Moving the lions and tiger!
Now that Cheetah side was complete and the animals were settled in, the focus shifted to completing lionside. The enclosures were already about 60% of the way complete, some needed feeding camps, a few still needed fencing. There were gates to build, electric fencing to install and foot fencing to secure. The rocks also had to be cemented in and we also still needed to build an enclosure for Buttercup & Baranaby as well as Jasper.
So much to do... where to even begin!
The team focused on the lion and tiger camps as a first priority since we needed to organise a vet to dart them for the relocation. The lion and tiger camps are big so the foot fencing was a lot of work. The staff and volunteers moved endless amounts of rocks in the final weeks leading up to the moving of the animals.
After the foot fencing was complete the next job on the list was clearing the enclosure. The team has to walk the entire camp repeatedly to remove wire, building materials and debris. Trees were cut and branches were moved out of the enclosures, the houses were painted with a waterproofing and Fushan's swimming pool was filled up!
The electric fence gave us a few problems with adjustments being made still on the day we were moving!
Would we be finished in time!!?
Meanwhile, Riana, Poofy, the vet and the animals were making their way from Bloemfontein to Bela Bela. That morning the lions and tiger were all darted with anesthetic, once asleep they underwent a full health check before being placed into travel crates for the journey. The trip took 7 hours but remarkably the biggest of cats were relatively placid after the initial unhappiness at the crate and travelling. We stopped quite a few times on the road to check the boys were all settled and found all sleeping calmly for the majority of the trip. The drive was long and we were all relieved to pull up at the front gate.
Due to terrible weather for the weeks leading up to the move, the road was almost impassable at some points, the Bela Bela team spent many an hour in the last week creating a new road from logs to ensure that we would manage to get the cats where they needed to be.
One by one the lions and tigers were carried over to their new enclosures and released from the travel crates, all were quite scared when they left the crates, but that was to be expected! They all hid in the bushes for the first hour but surprisingly Fushan the tiger was the first to explore. He stood by the fence watching and chuffing to everyone. Napoleon and Acinonyx were reunited after being separated for the first time ever, the reunion was very special! The 2 boys found a lot of comfort in each other and were glued to each others side for the first 2 weeks! Max spent the first week in the middle of the enclosure, feeling safe in the trees, but settled in quicker than we all expected!
The Cheetahs Move to Bela Bela
For the whole of September the team in Bela Bela were working day and night to finish the cheetah enclosures in preperation for the big move. There was foot fencing to be completed, gates to be made, electric fencing to be put up and of course a lot of clearing of debris!
We are so tired but so happy to have managed to complete all of the work in time!
In the last weeks of September we were busy painting transport crates to move into the enclosures to allow the cheetahs time to get used to them, as well as packing up much of the farm in Bloemfontein.
At the end of September we are pleased to say that everything was ready!!
On the day before the cheetahs relocation, the vehicles all arrived ready for the next day. We made lists and checked them off, had piles of things ready to be loaded alongside the cheetahs. Lots of plans were reviewed till we were certain everything that could be ready was... our vet was on standby should we need to sedate any of the cheetahs to load them into the transport crates..
The next morning was filled with excitement, anticipation and of course nerves! We had planned for all eventualities, but would the cheetahs follow the plans..
Loading of course took time, with so many cats to crate we had divided into teams, but soon we loaded the last cheetah onto the transport vehicles and all sighed with relief before breaking into huge smiles! Every single cheetah was loaded easily, they all walked into their crates with ease and comfort, we did not have to ask our vet to assist with a single cheetah. It was incredible, a remarkable feat with such an awesome team!
The drive from Bloemfontein to Bela Bela took over 6 hours, but also went without a hitch. All of the cheetahs were unloaded just as easily as they were loaded and they all settled in to their new home for the night.
It is expected that when you move any animal to a new home that some will settle easily, while others may take a bit longer... The cheetahs however decided to defy logic and by the end of their first full day all of them were happily exploring the new enclosure and environment!
It is really like they were just as exciting and happy to move, as we were to show them their new home!
Bela Bela Update
For the last few months the staff at the new farm in Bela Bela have been super busy getting things ready for the animals and people.
The land is rocky and full of trees/bushes so there has been a lot of clearing to do to mark out enclosures and fence lines. This is not easy work and has definitely taken a bit longer than we had hoped, however the end is in sight.
Although we do not have a moving date as yet, there has been a lot of progress, the cheetah camps are in the final stages of completion with just a few little things left to do. The lion/tiger camps just need the electric fence put up, and then the finishing touches with the building of the houses and the tiger pond installation.
Serval, caracal and leopard camp poles have been planted, with the fencing set to start very soon!
It's amazing to see how far it has come already in just a few months!
Things in Bloemfontein have already started to be dismantled and packed up, we have managed to move quite a lot already but it is amazing how much gets accumulated over the years :p
We will update you as we know more, but for now keep an eye on our social media pages to see photos, videos and news.
New Land Announcement
To our supporters, friends and family,
When Riana first arrived at what is now Cheetah Experience, there was no money, no food, no furniture, no fencing and no garden. It was just Riana and her first cheetah, Fiela. Since then, Riana, her dedicated team of staff and army of volunteers have grown Cheetah Experience into the life changing project it is today.
As many of you know, Cheetah Experience is currently on rented land. For a long time, we have wanted to find a place of our own, where we can build bigger enclosures for the animals and further our ability to release cheetahs into the protected wild. We have found the property of our dreams, and finally our dreams are becoming a reality!!
Our new home is based in Limpopo, in a town called Bela Bela, 1.5 hours from OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg. The property is 272Ha, more than 22 times as big as Cheetah Experience now! This property offers us so many possibilities! We have designed and begun to build bigger more beautiful natural enclosures for the animals. Our intention with the property will be to continue with the volunteer project, cheetah breeding project and educational guided tours. On top of this we also want to offer game drives – day and night, wildlife walking tours, photography safari’s and eventually open a cultural village.
The farm was being developed into a resort which means that there are 18 completed units with 1, 2 and 3 bedrooms. There is a main house, plus a further 2 houses that will need some maintenance and work. Additionally there are 14 apartments that are 90% completed, we will turn these into our volunteer village. Each apartment can fit 2-4 people and we will build a communal lounge/kitchen area to maintain the social aspects of the volunteer house currently. The central feature of the farm is the completed entertainment centre/lapa and swimming pool adjacent to the units. This will provide an additional area for socialisation, and possibly even a café in the future!
The landscape is beautiful, lots of indigenous trees and bushes that will provide natural shade and rest areas for our animals. Also the wildlife which roams free including zebra, nyala, kudu and impala, as well as caracal, jackal and even brown hyena! We have been monitoring the wildlife with a camera trap as well as identifying spoors.
You guys have all been here and seen the struggle we have had to maintain a good meat supply. Many times throughout the year our freezers have been scarily low on meat. Trying to secure suitable game meat for the cheetahs is a huge challenge. This farm is surrounded by game farms, and the antelope already living on the farm will provide us with an element of self-sustainability. We have always wanted to be able to feed the cheetahs a more natural diet, that doesn’t include any meat that they would not naturally eat in the wild such as chicken and cow.
As we drove to visit the property, there were numerous caravan and camp sites that were packed with visitors only a short drive away.
Our belief is that the development of the farm will create a lot of jobs for the local community, not just during the initial building stage, but also in the long-term. We will continue to access local schools and educational facilities in order to educate the future generations and we know that we will bring in more visitors to the area.
The game farm is situated only 90 minutes from Pretoria and the university vet hospital, on the outskirts of Bela Bela. The university hospital has already helped many of our animals including surgery on Liberty the cheetah’s cleft palette, Lia the bat eared fox’s broken leg, and surgery and check-ups on Legacy’s legs.
The farm is situated only 12 minutes away from the tourist town of Bela Bela. In Bela Bela there is a shopping mall, restaurants and bars, take outs and supermarkets inc Nando’s and Romans pizza to name a few. There are many different things in the surrounding area that not only attract tourists but would also be available for the volunteers to check out including ziplines, paintball, big 5 game reserves, animal parks and sanctuaries. We are also based only 4.5 hours from Kruger park and 4 hours from Botswana making it possible to organise trips for groups.
For the last 6 months we have been busy with all the paperwork required for this exciting new step. From the paperwork involved in the purchase, to writing up a business plan and submitting permit applications, everything took some time. We managed to submit the permit applications (there was a lot!!) on Riana’s birthday, and finally we got the approval to go ahead 3 months later on Poofy’s birthday!!! The planning stages took a lot of time and work, we had to survey the land, decided where to position enclosures, design the camps and finally work out how much everything is going to cost!
We are super excited for the future!!
Enclosure building is already underway, thanks to the generosity of our volunteers and supporters all of the enclosures have now been sponsored!
It is incredible!! We are truly overwhelmed!!