“I want to hold a baby cheetah!” Hannah was almost beside herself with excitement when she found information about the Cango Wildlife Ranch in Oudtshoorn. The movie Duma has long been a favorite of both girls, and the idea that we might get to interact with these impressive cats was a big draw. We were soon headed to South Africa’s famous Garden Route area, and added a stop in Oudtshoorn to our plans.
As we arrived at the ranch, it seemed a little “Jurassic Park;” the big gate, crocodile mouth entrance all seemed a little cheese-ball and didn’t bode well for the educational encounter we were wanting. Although the experience is made a bit touristy as they guide large numbers of people though what is more zoo than ranch, we did learn a lot and fully respect what they are trying to accomplish. And, we got our time with the cheetah cubs.
As the wild population of cheetahs shrinks with their habitat, one of their greatest threats is lack of genetic diversity. The cats can’t always find each other to mate with a non-related cat. Cango Wildlife Ranch and their Cheetah Conservation Foundation is part of a world-wide effort to preserve a diverse breeding population in captivity. Taking on a narrowly focused piece of helping preserve a species and also trying to educate the masses.
As we walked the park with our guide, he talked about the loss of habitat and shrinking populations of many of the animals on the African continent. Slash and burn, poor farming practices that ruin the soil, poaching for jungle meat. Poverty and hunger and lack of education of the people. Having just come from our farm stay, I was struck by how connected wildlife conservation and farming is. And, how few people seem to focus on that relationship.
I am certainly far from an expert on African or world-wide NGOs, just an American with divided attention. But, it seems to me the wildlife and conservationist focus on the preservation of the land, either through purchase or work with local authorities and governments. Hunger organizations work to feed people and help the subsistence farmers to improve their practices. Rarely do we hear from the hunger people about how their efforts help the wildlife. Even more rare is the nature organization who buys farms and hires professional, college educated farmers to run them to feed the people.
Sort of like at home, we choose our causes and don’t really relate them to one another. I’ve never really understood how we are so good at teaching our children to recycle shreds of paper and plastic bottles, but wasting food is not something they patrol in each other. Through their elementary school years, I joined my children for lunch once a week after an hour volunteering in the classroom. I’ve watched the kids re-use scratch paper and recycle it, and those same children take one bite from an apple and toss it in the trash. We focus on saving trees and not the environmental impact of our food. Fertilizers, pesticides, carbon emissions from storage and shipping and refrigeration.
Cango Wildlife Ranch made special arrangements for Marlie, as the cats might see her crutches and limp as a weakness and react unpredictably. While Hannah and John were able to visit the cheetah cubs in their enclosure, a cub was brought out on a leash to visit Marlie and me after we were sitting in place. At the wildlife park, we were able to spend some time with very cute cubs that represent the struggle for life and the future of a species.