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When it comes to the age old debate, cats vs dogs, I’ve always argued that cats are superior. So imagine my excitement when my boyfriend and I decided to spend the day at the Tenikwa Animal Rehab Center, which specializes in big cats. Lions, leopards, cheetahs, maracals, wild cats, they had them all. And not only did we get to spend time learning more about them, but we also got to actually get in the enclosures with some of them and even take Thandie, an 8 year old cheetah, for her evening outing.

Birds also benefit from the work of this rehab center.

Birds also benefit from the work of this rehab center.

Tenikwa is located in between Tsitsikamma and Knysna, on South Africa’s N2 Garden Route. The drive is breathtaking and Tenikwa is just one of many animal attractions along the route. I can’t vouch for the rest of them, but I can honestly say that getting to walk with a cheetah makes it worth a visit. This is hands down one of the best things I’ve ever done while traveling, far surpassing riding an elephant or petting a poorly treated tiger elsewhere. After just a couple of minutes of walking with Thandie I was no longer afraid at all and instead got used to her loud purring. It was hard to remember not to look her in the eye, but the guides were fantastic and their trust in the animals put me at ease. Best of all it was an excellent facility with the cats driving the decisions being made, even on our walk.

Thandie was in total control of our walk. When she wanted to rest, we did.

Thandie was in total control of our walk. When she wanted to rest, we did.

Thandie2

When it was all over we had refreshments and just before finishing our tea and snacks to head back to our guest house, the owner came by and sat with us for a long time. He told us more about the center and about life in South Africa in general. He basically said that all money that the tours bring in allows them to continue to do this rehab work with the animals. From Chester the diabetic cheetah who would otherwise die in the wild without his twice daily shots of insulin to the birds with broken wings unable to fly again, you could tell that it was a haven for these animals. It was sad to hear that most of them would never be released into the wild for their own safety, but also comforting to know that there are places and people that are champions for animals in a world sometimes so driven by greed, that those without voices are forgotten. I highly recommend the facility!

This white lion was the most beautiful creature I've ever seen. His color makes it difficult for him to blend in with the bush surroundings, in other words he's easily hunted and it's difficult for him to hunt because his prey can see him easily.

This white lion was the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen. His color makes it difficult for him to blend in with the bush surroundings, in other words he’s easily hunted and it’s difficult for him to hunt because his prey can see him easily.