Christo Schreiber

It’s 6 o’clock on a cool and misty early Wednesday morning, and my alarm clock is telling me (in no uncertain terms) that it’s time to leave the warmth of my bed and start my day. The sense of the bush as it springs to life is almost overwhelming, and I quickly forget my earlier reluctance to get up. As the sun drags its sleepy self up over the horizon, the tranquility is shattered by the territorial calls of two male lions at the centre.

As the centre’s curator, my day begins with the usual routine checks. Next I unlock the gates in anticipation of the many guests that are all looking forward to an exciting day at the centre. Before long safari vehicles full of visitors will leave on a journey of a lifetime, traversing the centre’s gravel roads in search of all things wild and wonderful.

Back at the office, game rangers and management are planning the day over the obligatory hot cup of coffee. There is the usual buzz of anticipation, as everyone wonders what new and exciting things the day holds in store.

At the butchery the smell of fresh beef lingers. The defrosted meat is carefully portioned and weighed so that each animal gets the right amount of food needed to maintain a healthy weight. Dietary supplements are also added to ensure that they get the requisite nutrients and vitamins.

As feeding days go it’s a big one. Eighty eight hungry cheetahs, wild dogs, black footed cats and lions all wait patiently for the familiar sound of my dusty old Toyota pick-up. As I round the first bend the rumbling of empty stomachs It’s 6 o’clock on a cool and misty early Wednesday morning, and my alarm clock is telling me (in no uncertain terms) that it’s time to leave the warmth of my bed and start my day. The sense of the bush as it springs to life is almost overwhelming, and I quickly forget my earlier reluctance to get up. As the sun drags its sleepy self up over the horizon, the tranquility is shattered by the territorial calls of two male lions at the centre.

As the centre’s curator, my day begins with the usual routine checks. Next I unlock the gates in anticipation of the many guests that are all looking forward to an exciting day at the centre. Before long safari vehicles full of visitors will leave on a journey of a lifetime, traversing the centre’s gravel roads in search of all things wild and wonderful.

Back at the office, game rangers and management are planning the day over the obligatory hot cup of coffee. There is the usual buzz of anticipation, as everyone wonders what new and exciting things the day holds in store.

At the butchery the smell of fresh beef lingers. The defrosted meat is carefully portioned and weighed so that each animal gets the right amount of food needed to maintain a healthy weight. Dietary supplements are also added to ensure that they get the requisite nutrients and vitamins.

As feeding days go it’s a big one. Eighty eight hungry cheetahs, wild dogs, black footed cats and lions all wait patiently for the familiar sound of my dusty old Toyota pick-up. As I round the first bend the rumbling of empty stomachs causes quiet anticipation to erupt into full-blown excitement.

My first stop is at Lovers’ Lane, where a two year old cheetah named Ilanga eagerly awaits my arrival. Her agility never ceases to amaze me. As soon as she hears the familiar thump of the meat hitting the cement slab in her enclosure, she leaps from the large fruited bush willow (her favourite jungle gym) and pounces on her food in a matter of seconds.

By 11o’clock everyone is fed, and hunger is not even a distant memory. The longer I work at the centre, the more closely I get to know the animals. Just like people, they each have their own individual characters with very specific needs. A large part of my job entails monitoring them and watching for any change in behaviour. By giving them my undivided attention I can ensure that any signs of alarm or distress will not go unnoticed. But rather than be a chore, checking up on my charges has become a very fulfilling part of my day.

And finally, once the last visitor has waved goodbye I make my rounds again. Checking that the enclosures are securely locked and the animals are all safe. As I head home a gentle wind whispers goodnight, and night falls like a blanket, covering us all with a protective star studded sky.

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