Going to Africa was something I have dreamed of my entire life. I can’t remember ever not wanting to go to Africa. I never doubted that I would get there. What surprised me was how much it meant and how much greater the experience would be than I ever imagined.
One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Moholoholo Rehab Center. Located only minutes from where we were staying, this center was a place where injured, poisoned and orphaned animals would find a second chance at life. Brian Jones runs the center and he met the five of us from Coyote Trails when we arrived and proceeded to give us a very personal tour. We had no idea that we were in for an afternoon of once in a lifetime experiences.
Our first stop was at the Cheetah pen. Would we like to come in? Sure! We walked into the pen and it was empty. Then they led a cheetah out. How would we each like to pet it? Are you kidding?
We watched the hyenas and spotted dogs after the cheetah. Both of these animals are pack animals with specialized niches in the bush ecosystem. We often heard the hyenas howling at night. Their vocalizations ranged in pitch and intensity and carry quite a distance. The spotted dogs are more rare. We never saw one while in Africa but we did see their tracks once in the bush. Seeing those tracks will make your awareness level rise. The dogs are always hungry. The run in at their prey, take fast bites and will devour an animal in minutes. We looked at them with respect.
Off to the eagle enclosure. They opened the door and we just walked in and stood there looking at a huge variety of eagles. They were not tethered. Most sat on perches scattered throughout the enclosure and eyed us. We were allowed to walk up to them at will. When I got close to one he took flight. It was amazing to be so close as to feel it. Would we like to touch one? Our guide pointed to a Bateleur eagle. He was sitting freely on a perch. If we wanted, we could reach behind his head and scratch it. He was a free bird in the sense that his beak and talons were available for use. You had to wonder if this was a really smart thing to do. But how often do you get to touch an eagle? We all took turns slowly. When I reached up and placed my fingers on the back of his neck, he turned his head to look at me. We locked gazes for several long moments. The exchange of energy was humbling.
Onto the rhino encloser. No way! We were going in? Yes but this white rhino was a young fellow. We got to sit with this baby close up and watch her graze. With only 3,000 left in the wild and 500 dying each year from poaching, we watched her with sadness and hope. It was an honor to sit with her a while
Into the vulture area next. Would we like to have one land on our arm? We put on a very thick and heavy leather sleeve that would protect us from the talons. Then our guide held up some meat. It was first come, first serve. The vultures were free flying in here, too, and whatever one landed on your arm first got the food. It took seconds and then you’d hear and feel one coming, the wings pushing air around you in a big swoosh and the heaviness of the bird would almost make your arm drop. They were huge!
We sat with baby cheetahs. We visited with a civet. We took a peek at three captured leopards. They had been removed from private property at the request of the
landowner. They would have been shot if the folks at the rehab center hadn’t offered to catch and remove them. It was a female with her two cubs. When we peaked under the tarp which covered their cage to get a look at them, she charged. Only inches away, Joe, the bravest of us whom we encouraged to go first in taking a look, jerked his head back. We all took a look, too, but I admit we were more than hesitant. If we had been on equal ground with no cage in between, we all knew that she would have had the last say.
Into another eagle cage. There was only one eagle in it. She was one of the largest eagles in South Africa, a Crowned Eagle. She consider Brian to be her mate. Would we like to hold her? Yes!! But she didn’t want to be held. She soared by us and Brian told to leave the cage immediately. We all tried to get through the door at once. Pretty comical to see six of us trying to exit as the eagle, talons outstretched swooped by.
We ended our private tour with the lions. They know Brian well and as we stood right next the fence, the male lion came up to see him. Brian focused on the female and started to walk along the edge of the lion cage. He warned us what would happen but I wasn’t ready for it. The male lion, noticing Brian’s focus on his mate, let out a roar. He didn’t like the way Brian was looking at his female.
The roar was incredibly loud and it vibrated through my chest intensely. Again and again he roared and with it came a wave of great respect and awe. I cannot compare that sound, that feeling, to anything I have ever felt in the wilds of North America before. We simply have nothing like it here on this continent.
When we left for home, the conversation in the vehicle consisted of a sad attempt to find the right words to describe how we felt about the day. We failed. The only thing that came close was the quiet expressions on our faces as our eyes met briefly. We’d smile without words and shake our heads and then look away. Sometimes it’s hard speak when you’re feeling so much.
Check out the Moholoholo Rehab Center through their website: