Category Archives: Animal Attractions

Animal Spotting at Giraffe House in Stellenbosch (2017-09-30) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 02 SEP 2018

The Giraffe House Wildlife Awareness Centre (better known as the Giraffe House) sits on the outskirts of Stellenbosch on your way to Paarl. Their focus is on providing easy access to some of Africa’s wonderful wildlife and bird species, a place for people to enjoy being outdoors whilst experiencing and learning all about the animals – but most important of all is the fact that they are home to Gerry the hand reared giraffe.

Actually that isn’t all that accurate any more. These days the Giraffe House is home to a handful of giraffes, joining the rest of the stable that includes the likes of monkeys, meerkats, eland, bontebok, grysbok, duikers, springbok, zebra, caracal, cape fox and a black backed jackal!

In addition to the wildlife, Giraffe House also has a couple of farmyard enclosures set up, filled with goats, sheep and geese, perfect recipients for kids eager to feed the animals. (Of course this does then mean with every kid wanting to feed an animal, a lot of kids walk away slightly disappointed when the now obviously not so hungry/quite full goats refuse to take even a nibble! :D)

The center also has a collection of snakes, Nile crocodiles and tortoises on site, with the bird complement being filled by the likes of ostriches, blue crane, storks, lovebirds, parrots, ducks and even a couple of starlings.

Given the open space, the venue also makes for a great locale for kids’ birthday parties, and they have a little snack vendor and small kids play area to ensure that the kids don’t moan too much once they tire of walking about watching the animals.

My favourite part of visiting Giraffe House is however the interactive reptile show with their extremely affable host, who is guaranteed to pretty much always pull a good coupe of laughs out from the crowd.

At least this time around I didn’t end up with a tarantula on my face!

Pro-Tip: Avoid going in the middle of the day when it is too hot – there isn’t a lot of shade, it is a lot of open ground to cover, and quite frankly neither you, your kids or the animals aren’t going to be even bothered with one another if all are miserable and drenched in sweat.

Related Link: The Giraffe House | Stellenbosch

USA 2016 – 28 Exploring the iconic San Diego Zoo (2016-07-19) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 12 AUG 2018

The San Diego Zoo is an iconic, award-winning, world famous zoo. Established in 1916, situated in the mesmerizing Balboa Park and home to over 3,700 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies, the zoo is also known for having one of the largest zoological membership associations in the world – almost a half million people! It was also the primary pioneer in the concept of open-air, cageless zoo exhibits (that simulate natural animal habitats) – much like you would find in our very own National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, aka Pretoria Zoo.

Having originally grown out of the abandoned exotic animal exhibitions of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, these days the San Diego Zoo sprawls across an area covering 40 hectares (about half of Pretoria Zoo’s size) of Balboa Park, and is jam packed with the  most remarkable, carefully crafted and maintained enclosures, exhibits, walkways and gardens.

As an addition to exploring the park on foot, the zoo also offers a pretty neat, open air guided bus tour that traverses about 75% of the park, as well the Skyfari – an overhead gondola lift that gives you an aerial view of the park down below.

The exhibits are all designed around particular habitats, which then groups together animals that tend to be found side-by-side in the wild, usually alongside with that habitat’s native plant life. For example, there were the gorillas in an African rain forest, polar bears in the Arctic taiga and tundra, and elephants and giraffes on dusty African plains.

Massive free-flight aviaries are littered about, and on top of all that, the zoo also maintains its grounds as an arboretum, with a botanical collection that includes more than 700,000 exotic plants!

The animals, the crafted environment, all of it just comes together to form an absolutely breathtaking zoo experience, a place where you can happily spend pretty much an entire day (which essentially I did) moving through the various habitats and exploring all the nooks and crannies of this wondrous zoo.

So a quick rundown of the current exhibits then: Monkey Trails and Forest Tales (monkeys and other animals from the rainforests of Asia and Africa), Owens Aviary and Scripps Aviary (tropical and local birdlife), Panda Canyon (pandas, takins and snow leopards from China), Urban Jungle (giraffes, gazelles, cheetahs and Indian rhinos), Polar Bear Plunge (polar bears, reindeer and foxes of the Arctic), Discovery Output (lizards, snakes, turtles and frogs), Ituri Forest (okapi, duikers and hippos from the rainforests of central Africa), Elephant Odyssey (elephants, lions and jaguars), Gorilla Tropics (gorillas!), Absolutely Apes (orangutans and siamangs), Sun Bear Forest (Bornean sun bears, macaques and silvery lutung monkeys), Tiger Rivers (tigers and gharials of Malaysia), Outback (koalas, wombats and tasmanian devils), and the newly opened African Rocks – which unfortunately was still being built when I was there but which is a massive new addition to the zoo, featuring a variety of distinct African biospheres and the animals that they contain.

While not a massive fan of zoos or aviaries in general, I do understand the need for zoos and enjoy zoos which are really well put together – and in that regard the well financed San Diego definitely does not disappoint. Everything is colourful, the grounds are immaculate, the animals are all well looked after, and as a bonus, I saw loads of creatures that I would almost assuredly never encounter back here in South Africa.

A thoroughly enjoyable visit then, and just as it had been with my visit to Disneyland, I kind of really wished that I had my girls with me in order to show them around this remarkable space!

(Remember how I said that my phone was charging hence the distinct lack of photos of Balboa Park in general? Yeah well, I took a LOT of photos in the zoo!)

Related Link: San Diego Zoo | Wikipedia | Balboa Park | San Diego | #USA2016

Stroking Leather at Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm in Paarl (2017-12-23) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 07 JUL 2018

The Cape Winelands is home to a surprisingly large number of animal-based attractions, in other words great news for tourists and dads with kids to entertain like myself. Situated on Babylonstoren Road in Simondium, an area centrally situated between Paarl, Franschoek and Stellenbosch is Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm, a CITES registered breeder and tanner of the African Nile crocodile.

Basically, if you want a close up view of teeth on legs all wrapped up in a thick leather hide, Le Bonheur is the place to go.

So, obviously the main crocodile pond tour takes front and center in terms of activities for any day visitor, with eleven such tours taking place on a daily basis.

The tour starts off with a brief introduction to the species in the briefing room, before you are led out onto the ramps that walk you above the open dams and Le Bonheur’s approximately 300 crocodiles who are mostly lazing about beneath you. You will learn more about these animals from an experienced guide, maybe witness a feeding session (primarily during the Summer months), and definitely get to touch/hold a baby croc.

While not particularly exciting as such (crocodiles tend not to move very much unless they really have to), the tour is very informative and certainly worth it if you have never seen a crocodile in real life before.

Then there is the crocodile cage dive, a close encounter experience offered by African Croc Dive that sees you dipping into a pool full of crocodiles with only a steel cage between you and their rather plentiful teeth. (For those of you who don’t relish the prospect of getting wet, an underwater, dry viewing box experience is also on offer).

That said, it isn’t all crocodile on the menu at Le Bonheur. In the main building the team have setup an interesting little self-guided snake centre exhibit filled with both indigenous and exotic snakes, and also on offer is an interactive snake show that includes both an informative talk and touch session with some of their slithery stars.

Then there is the small onsite restaurant/pizzeria that produces a selection of good pizzas, pies, and other light lunch options (like their famous crocodile meat pies). Well priced and a good way to round off a croc viewing experience on a hot summer’s day. You can also pre-book a picnic basket to be enjoyed on their luscious lawn out by the dam, or book the braai facilities if you want to take charge of your own menu for the day.

The dam behind the main building is open for catch and release fishing (you can hire fishing rods from Le Bonheur if needed), and the small kids play area around the back is great for the little ones to run out any left over energy while you laze on the grass under the shade of their big trees.

Finally there is the small gift shop full of Nile Crocodile leather products, and just in case you didn’t feel like making the drive home, Le Bonheur also has self catering/bed and breakfast facilities available.

Oh, and they host kids parties, cater to weddings (their hall can accommodate anything from 160 to 200 guests), and offer conference facilities.

So pretty much everything then.

Anyway, the girls and I found ourselves spending a Saturday there back in December last year (the second time that we had paid Le Bonheur a visit), and as you might imagine, crocodiles were observed, croc skin touching was had, pizzas devoured, and lots of photos taken. So a good day out then.

(Footnote: Obviously the horrible accident at the start of the year was an absolute tragedy for all involved, but given all the employment that this attraction provides in what is a relatively economically depressed area, I’m really pleased to see the Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm still operating and attracting as many visitors as what it does. Tourism still remains the best key to unlocking the biggest opportunities in rural communities at this stage.)

Related Link: Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm | Paarl

The Big Cats and Crocodiles of Cango Wildlife Ranch in Oudtshoorn (2017-07-04) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 27 MAY 2018

Celebrating over 30 years of conserving and caring for endangered animal species, the Cango Wildlife Ranch (which originally started life out as a crocodile show farm), is one of the now very iconic Oudtshoorn attractions for visiting families – after all, which small kid is ever going to forget entering the premises through those toothy, gaping crocodile jaws!

A fully accredited, privately owned institution, Cango Wildlife Ranch has worked for years towards the conservation of cheetah and other endangered species – so much so that they are in fact one of the five biggest cheetah centres in the world and has for many years had the highest survival rate of cubs produced globally.

Currently housing over 90 species of animals, all in good condition, and looked after by a large experienced team of both professionals and volunteers, the Cango Wildlife Ranch serves to maintain both excellent breeding programmes as well as robust public awareness campaigns.

Then of course there is that whole entertaining visitors through edu-tourism thing.

The Cango Wildlife Ranch setup is fantastic. The grounds, pathways, and enclosures are interestingly presented, well maintained, and in fact just well done, while the guided tours which lead you through everything are slick and very informative – and for those in search of something even more adventurous, experiences like crocodile cage diving and big cat interaction are also available.

There was of course no way that Chantelle, the girls and I could pass up the opportunity to pay the ranch a visit as part of our June Holidays road trip last year, and I’m quite glad that we did make the time to do so in the end.

The girls were enthralled, I was happy to relive pleasant childhood memories, and most pleasing of all, Cango Wildlife Ranch remains still well worth the visit.

Seriously. If you find yourself in Oudtshoorn and have kids in tow, then missing a visit to the Cango Wildlife Ranch (which is open 365 days of the year just by the way) is pretty much unthinkable!

Related Link: Cango Wildlife Ranch | Oudtshoorn | #JuneHolidays2017

Stony Point Penguins in Betty’s Bay (2017-05-06) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 14 DEC 2017

There are only a few land-based African Penguin colonies in the world, with South Africa lucky enough to be home to two of these – the first being the famous (and tourist popular) Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, and the second, the slightly lesser known Stony Point Nature Reserve in Betty’s Bay.

I’m particularly fond of the much quieter but equally as good Stony Point penguin colony, with its beautiful raised boardwalk that snakes through the penguin’s homes and breeding ground.

The compact reserve is home to a colony of African Penguins (who by now are quite acclimatized to the humans peering down at them from above), three species of cormorant (the Crowned cormorant, the Cape cormorant, and the Bank cormorant) that breed on the outer rocks, Harlaub’s Gulls and Kelp Gulls that forage in the colony, as well as a big troop of Rock Hyrax or as we locals like to call them, dassies.

The boardwalk gives you an excellent vantage point from which to watch the penguins go about their daily lives, and come breeding season it is particularly cute to watch the furry youngsters try and strut their stuff!

The colony lies on the site of the old Waaygat Whaling Station which was used to harvest and process whale meat in the early to mid 1900s. Although nearly no remnant of this industry remains in sight, there are plenty of signage boards dotted around in order to give you an idea as to the scale of the whale trade that used to happen here.

Cape Nature manages the nature reserve and there is a lot of very interesting bits and pieces of penguin-related information posted everywhere, making a visit quite educational if you want it to be. (As a bonus, the entrance fee is relatively nominal – making it a much cheaper visit than say a trip through to the comparable Boulder’s Beach.)

Also, there is now a small restaurant built alongside the parking area, useful if you have complaining kids which aren’t all that enamored with the super cute seabird action along with you. Pleasingly, this isn’t us.

We tend to visit this penguin colony at least once a year (more or less), and this year was no different, with Jessica and Emily joining me for a visit to the penguins back in May (all part of our larger day out and about in Rooi Els, Kleinmond and Betty’s Bay).

Pleasingly, for a change the wind stayed away, leaving only perfect weather for us to have to contend with…

The surrounding landscape is quite pretty and there are plenty of opportunities for some great photos to be taken, making a visit to this well managed and relatively quiet nature reserve definitely worth the while!

Related Link: Stony Point Nature Reserve

Chimpanzees at Monkey Town in Somerset West (2016-11-06) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 28 JUL 2017

Sometimes I don’t particularly feel like driving very far when it comes to my weekend outings with the girls, and so invariably we end up at Monkey Town, situated a ridiculously convenient ten minutes down the road from me.

Founded back in 2000 by animal lover and habitual monkey rescuer Roseline Grobler, the Monkey Town Primate Sanctuary is a Somerset West based wildlife center for monkeys and apes with more than 230 animals split among 28 different exotic species, including Tammy, Ruby, and Sunny, Monkey Town’s famous chimpanzee sisters.

The sanctuary has an interesting layout as you essentially walk for large swathes of the park in a fenced tunnel, with monkeys moving about in the open all around (and above) you.

Although you are more than welcome to browse and work your way through the sanctuary on your own and at your own pace (strolls through Monkey Town don’t normally take much longer than an hour), it is recommended to rather join in on the frequent guided tours, primarily because that way you will learn a lot more about the animals running around in front of you.

Feeding time is quite the fun spectacle (for that matter, the chimpanzees never cease to amaze with both their catching and bottle opening skills), and if you want an even closer look/interaction with some of the smaller, fluffier critters, then there are a couple of encounter options eagerly awaiting your purchase.

The girls rather enjoyed this particular outing last year, with Jessica, as she invariably does on these outings of ours, taking quite a shine to our guide and pretty much never leaving his side for the duration of the tour!

These guys do a lot of great work in terms of taking in, rearing and caring for abandoned, captive-bred monkeys and are definitely worth supporting, meaning that if you have kids, then undoubtedly this is one of those visits that you can safely leave on your To Do list.

(Also, if the kids get bored, there is the kids play paradise of Cheeky Monkey right next door. In all honesty, I can’t really recommend them as a restaurant of choice, but they do have all the necessary equipment if you have kids with lots of energy to get rid of!)

Related Link: Monkey Town | Facebook