September 18, 2010
You can come to Boskoppie as either a guest or as a volunteer. There is a two story house attached to the kitchen area and then 5 rooms across the lawn + pool lined up in a row with outdoor patios and then there are two separate cabins further back on the grounds closer to the large lion enclosures. If you are driving through South Africa and need a place for the night it is very nice accommodations- clean and safe the two most important, although there is no kitchen staff so you must bring your own food. There is a bar and multiple areas for a braii (the Afrikaans word for barbeque). On our second to last day I went to the local butcher and picked up a ton of supplies for a braii, which we did on the second to last and last night and was a really fun experience.
Guests can receive tours of the site, although they are often given by us volunteers and as I noticed not all the information is always 100% accurate, but it is still cool to see and interact with the animals. At any given time Boskoppie has around 70 cats which include lions, tigers, jaguars and caracals. Other animals are sometimes around as well including ducks, an evil pet vervet monkey, Api, who I first loved and came to hate and be frightened of, three pet dogs Jacob, Roxy, and Linky who slept in my room with me every night, a ton of local birds, bats, and lizards, and while we were there baby bunny rabbits. If you are just passing through it is best to come on Sunday afternoons at 4pm because that is feeding time when all the cats are given their weekly carcass and they become very active.
If you are coming as a volunteer it is a very different experience. I did not sign up to go to Boskoppie directly, although you can if you would like. I signed up with a third party company i-to-i. I am not sure what the owner tells people before they volunteer, but I can say i-to-i did not describe the place very well and there were many problems between the description and reality. One of the most glaring differences is that we were told we could decline certain activities like chopping meat and helping to collect carcasses, which for me (a girl who before two weeks ago had never even touched red meat in her life) was an extremely unpleasant experience and resulted in me vomiting about 7 times over the course of the two weeks.
The other glaring difference was the lack of supervision. We had been promised that there would be experts there to guide us, but instead we were thrown in completely on our own with only the other volunteers who had only been there for a few weeks to guide us. This created a multitude of problems as some of the volunteers had been trained by the owner while others had been trained by other volunteers and everyone had a different way of doing things. The first week was horribly unpleasant as a lot of it was spent being scolded by the veteran volunteers who each had their own way of doing things and admonished us newbies for doing it wrong- I eventually wrote down each persons method and had to remember when to use what to avoid the headache of being told off again and again.
When the veteran volunteers left the second week and us newbies who all came together were left to our own devices things went much more smoothly, although we still had some major safety concerns. There was one other volunteer who came midway through our first week who was a very experienced volunteer and he helped run the place, but often he was off doing work and was not readily accessible. At those times the four of us volunteers were the only people there and it was up to us to run the place. We were responsible for all the animals and the office, but we were given no instruction on how to handle the business and every time someone showed up for a tour we would have to run off an find the other volunteer to have him deal with the money as we weren’t given permission to do so. We also had great safety concerns because often it was just the four of us working with the animals and the owner was not on site and therefore no car was onsite. We also had no way of contacting her except for the other volunteer so if some volunteer, person on a tour, or cat had been gravely injured we had no emergency plan to deal with it. We all left with minor scratches and bumps and bruises (some of us with major bruises from dealing with the six-month old tiger cubs), but luckily no one was very hurt because we probably would have bled out before the owner arrived.
However, if you can get past all of that, which I know seems like a lot of negative, the experience of working hands on with the animals themselves is remarkable. Some of it is gross like having to manually stimulate the bowels of the baby lion cubs to make them poop (and then you get poop all over you) and some of it is scary like feeding the tiger cubs who want to play and could easily take off a good part of your hand if they got a good bite and the right leverage, but you quickly get past all those things and embrace the awe-inspiring experience of working with these amazing animals. Here is a preview of some of the babies we worked with, along with a group shot of the four of us volunteers trying to take a group shot with the six-week old baby lion cubs. I will post more individually on each animal in the coming days so be sure to check back again soon!