Tired of always being tempted to click on emails and Facebook links of cute kittens, possums, koalas and other cuddly things, I decided to get the need to look at tiny bundles of fur out of my system by going straight to the source. Sure, LOLcats and digital pictures of hedgehogs are great, but nothing beats the real deal for sheer cuteness. A visit to the Cango Wildlife Ranch was in order. The ranch offers visitors an extraordinary and rare opportunity to interact with hand-reared cheetahs and to play with Bengal tiger cubs. I knew I would be in furry paradise …
For the super adventurous and fearless the ranch also offers cage diving with crocodiles or the chance to wrap yourself in a python, great mucho excuses for going to look at the kitties. 3km from the charming Karoo town of Oudtshoorn makes for a long-ish journey from Cape Town, but it’s well worth the trip. Just make sure you take lots of photographs …
The entrance of the ranch is an attraction in itself. Steeped in history, the Great Temple, built by an ancient tribe to protect this once hidden valley, looms down over visitors. In the past human sacrifices were performed to please the river god, Nyami Nyami, whose statues still guard the entrance. In 1835 explorers discovered the valley and and, doing what colonialists do best, soon exploited the natural resources and people. Eventually everyone in the valley disappeared. Legend says the river god became angry at the destruction and destroyed all who lived there. In 2006 the valley was rediscovered, lucky for us.
Our tour begins and will take us through the Valley of the Ancients, allowing us to look at various animals in their own environment. Here some of the worlds most secretive and mysterious animals live in their own environment while still interacting with humans. Starting at the Zimbakwe Temple Ruins, this tropical house is home to colossal fruit bats, bashful duiker, flying foxes, birds of paradise and an awe inspiring underwater tank where you can observe Malawian cichlids and baby Nile crocodiles.
Next is the Malawian forest exhibit, home to beautifully coloured Red river hogs and giant monitor lizards. Moving forward, we say hi to Malcolm and Lyons, two marabou storks. They live side by side to two endangered cape vultures nesting against a rugged cliff face.
If this is all a bit timid for you adventurers, the next plan of action is to venture over the deadly Snapper gorge. This is no ordinary hang bridge. Underneath it, 4 meter long Nile crocodiles keep a watchful eye as tourists tread carefully across the bridge. As if this isn’t scary enough, the Valley is the only place in the world to offer Croc Cage Diving allowing you to get close and personal with these scaly scary predators.
All I can manage is a timid peak through my fingers as a diver is lowered into the underwater tank. Safely behind bars, the diver is inspected by these inquisitive giants who get close enough to touch. (Although if you value your fingers I wouldn’t recommend that). Another exciting event is the feeding of the crocodiles. Standing on a moving jetty, the guides hold out bits of meat. These powerful beasts leap for their food, snatching it from the guide’s hands while onlookers watch in anticipation.
Next stop is the exotic and unusual Lemur Island, depicting the Madagascan environment. Here, the rare Madagascar Ring-tailed Lemur shares its home with a group of flamingos. I have a stare down with one and lose quite quickly, his wide eyes unflinching and slightly comical, while another screeches and yowls madly. Not to be outdone, the Flamingos strut around grandly showing off their impressive pink plumage.
Although showcasing many animals from many places around the world, the Congo exhibit is a show stopper, reminding us that Africa too has many unique and exciting animals. Pygmy Hippo Village takes us into the heart of Africa to meet Hilda and Herbert, two pygmy hippos. Weighing about 250kg they aren’t small, and when yawning those teeth look sharp and dangerous. However, according to our guide these hippos have a lot of heart and are cherished by staff and visitors alike. The spotted neck otter is another African animal to grab the limelight at Otter Waterfall. Playful and friendly we watched a few otters frolic in the cascading waterfall like energetic children.
Cheetahland completes the tour, with a raised wooden walkway allowing you to have a birds eye view of sleek cheetahs, playful white lion cubs, strong jaguars, proud adult lions and gorgeous white tigers. The Natural Encounters Program allows you to even meet a Bengal tiger cub or stroke a cheetah.
After the tour one is more than welcome to freely wonder around revisiting the sites they most enjoyed or to grab a bite to eat at fast food restaurant Grunts or take away hut Vundu’s.
An important aspect of this ranch is the Cheetah Conservation Foundation. Since its establishment in 1988, the Cango Wildlife Ranch has become a world renowned cheetah breeding facility with the main aim being to ensure the continued survival of the cheetah and other endangered species. To this day over 170 cheetahs have been born in the ranch demonstrating that the Cango Wildlife Ranch is on the right path to ensuring that these beautiful creatures can be enjoyed for many generations to come.
Cango Wildlife Ranch, Oudtshoorn; Telephone: Tel: +27 (0)44 272-5593