The pristine Garden Route of South Africa is well known for its many natural attractions, protected National Parks, and vibrant coastal eco-tourism activities.
Ever heard of “Tenikwa” when travelling along the Garden Route?
If not, I have to tell you that you have missed one of the Best Wildlife Awareness & Rehabilitation Conservation Centres there is.
Their great work and outstanding setup all takes place in the rural suburb known as The Crags outside Plettenberg Bay.
How it all started to become a Wildlife Centre
In early 2002 the founders of Tenikwa, Len & Mandy, started rehabilitating injured birds in a wooden shed behind their house. From an injured bird in the garden shed, it has developed to a home, rehabilitating and caring for a diverse variety of animals both terrestrial and marine species. I loved this story and the attitude of the staff and this is why I wanted to know more about this great work and how it all became to be one of the largest active wildlife rehabilitation centres in the Western Cape.
Tenikwa's work & passion
Apart from rescue and rehabilitation, Tenikwa also puts a lot of energy and effort into educating both locals and tourists, and children. This was another strong reason for us to find out more about the centre and how they involve the local and holidaying children.
I got to understand from Mandy the owner, that at Tenikwa every animal they keep on a permanent basis should have a teaching purpose. There is no reason to keep a non-releasable animal in a cage just to have a sad story to show that due to injuries it cannot be returned to the wild. But often the rescued animal also cannot be put with other animals within the conservation centre. She said with a heavy heart, that sometimes it is just better to release the animal from his pain and let go.
I get her point totally. Tenikwa concentrates on rehabilitation and awareness, and does not want to become a “sanctuary” where tourists can come and gawk at injured animals.
Tenikwa's awareness animals at the centre</h4 id="meerkat">
One of their “awareness” animals is the Meerkat. All these animals have been rescued from homes where they were kept as pets. Three well established sections with Meerkats are used to teach the locals, especially the younger generation, that they should not be kept as pets, and it is forbidden in South Africa as these are wild animals.
A further large problem they are facing is the Caracal persecution. Like with many wild hunting animals, this predator kills far in excess of what it will consume just for fun.
So, the farmers shoot them and they are now locally threatened. Tenikwa houses four non-releasable Caracals and holds frequent awareness campaigns where they invite local farm families to teach them alternatives on how they can protect their farm animals and why they should not just shoot these wild animals.
Mandy says that on days like this they really want to get the kids involved and are planting the conservation seeds in to the young generation. There is the hope that when they’re back at home, and dad wants to go and shoot a Caracal, the children will take a step towards the long-term goal and prevent dad from shooting these animals. Such measures can include a predator collar for sheep so that the Caracal cannot bite the neck and make a kill.
I understand that their work can be quite frustrating at times as there are a lot of points that need to join together for the whole environment to become better again, but quite often the points just simply do not join.
The program EcoKidz Family Challenge was born exactly for this reason. It helps the kids in a fun interactive way to explore various conservation aspects and learn about the animals with which they are sharing the planet, and why it is so important to keep them and their environments safe.
We were charmed by the sincerity of Tenikwa, the friendliness of their staff and the way in which Tenikwa’s passion for conservation shines through.
The press has covered a lot of negativity lately about different conservation centres around the world. But let me assure you, Tenikwa is far and beyond these bad reputations. There is so much passion in every single staff member we have meet, and the sincerity of their work and what they do is unquestionable.
We love their motto.
“Come with an Open Mind, Tread with a Lighter Step, Leave with a Change of Heart”
Tenikwa gardens (approximately 8ha) are frequent visited by different indigenous birds such as Blue Cranes, Marabou Storks and waterfowls. Another 46ha is set aside for the wild animals occurring in the area.
Understand what a REAL Rehabilitation centre is all about.
First of all, I would like to let you know that the animals that you may see and experience during your guided tour are all animals that are non-releasable and act as ambassadors for their species in the wild. If a centre tells you that the leopard you can cuddle will be released soon, this is a lie and they are more interested in your money than the well-being of the animal. The fact is that in any rehabilitation centre if the animals are in contact with tourists they will not be released and may even be used for canned hunting. Just keep this in mind.
Now there may be all different kind of reasons why there is no release possible, and I am not saying it is a bad thing, I would like you to understand the difference between proper rehabilitation and release, and the ones that are just saying they will be released after you have paid some money for contact.
Different awareness programs on offer
The Wildlife Awareness & Rehabilitation Conservation Centre has something for everyone on offer. Whether you visit alone, with a friend or like we did as a family with young kids, their program caters and adapts for your needs.
Photographers will be in awe with a relaxed private tour which offers ample time and opportunities to experience the various indigenous Wild Cats in a natural setting and allowing you to get the perfect shot.
The best of the best is an inspirational full day exclusive program to experience the full extent of Tenikwa with insight into the rehabilitation facilities and a day spent with the resident cats of Tenikwa. Expect the Unexpected!
Learning as a family is possible with the EcoKidz family challenge program.
This is a program designed especially for children and their family. It is suitable for all ages, and the tour content is designed for 6-12 years old. The tour is super safe and in certain enclosures, the staff will ask parents to pick up young children just to be sure and make the kids feel safe. It can be a bit daunting for the little ones when an animal of the same size approaches them.
But nothing to worry about, the whole conservation program is 100% ethical and safe. Absolutely no touching or cuddling or other funny which one hears about at other rehabilitation centres. It is purely an educational program.
The full program lasts 90 minutes and at the end each kid will make a pledge stating the commitment to becoming a Tenikwa EcoKid! How cool is this for your kids to have!
As we wanted to involve the kids as much as possible during our visit and the full day exclusive program was probably just a bit too much to keep two 3 and a half year olds interested we talked to the staff to find out what our options were.
The EcoKids program normally is tailored for families with children aged 6 and over.
The staff saw our disappointment as we thought due to the age of the twins, we might not be able to join and learn on a program with a guide, so they offered us a blend of the EcoKidz Family Challenge and the Wild Cats Experience which suited our 3.5-year-old twins. Bingo!
As I always say, ask, ask, ask, people are happy if they see you’re interested in their work and mostly if times allow they will try to accommodate. Here there might be an extra cost for a combined program as it will have to be a private tour, but it is so worth it, believe me.
For me this has just shown another strong feature of their whole setup. Flexibility and wanting to share their knowledge. Great attitude! To find out more about their different programs go to their website
Our morning at Tenikwa - Wildlife Centre with Kids
The family program consists of various conservation challenges to keep the kids engaged and interested.
And although our kids were just a little shy of 3.5 years old, the team made sure the program was fun and was adapted to their age.
Animals encounter during the EcoKidz Family Challenge
The great informative guided tour starts with a visit to the Meerkats. He told us that we should listen carefully as there was a test at the end and only if we got it right the kids were presented with a certificate (smile) so we started to make notes.
Along we went to the Caracals which by the way are unique to Africa and the name means black ears. Did you know they can jump vertically up to a height of 3m? Neither did we.
Another beautiful species on the tour was the Blue Crane which is the national bird of South Africa and is featured on one of South Africa’s coins. They mate for life.
I wish I could make a better photo, but every time I approached them to get the lens through the fence, they attacked me 🙂 .
Lion & Lioness
In 2014 when an American dentist shot one of Africa’s famous lions during canned hunting (where an animal is kept in a confined area allowing the hunter an increased chance of making a kill) the world was literally shocked and reacted to it. There is a good chance that if you have handled or been offered the chance to handle lion cubs, that theses cubs will eventually be used for canned hunting. Tenikwa wanted to bring more awareness about the king of the jungle, and that all these money making activities with hunting and tourism needs to stop. The beautiful white lion male and his companion female are there to present this.
We also got to know the beautiful Serval of which sadly there are only 2500 left in the wild as they also get shot by farmers. This is the 2ndfastest animal after the cheetah and can get to 80km/h and can jump 4m up in the air.
The amazing Cheetah which apparently is the only big cat that purrs. When we saw her, she was purring loud and looked pretty happy to us. They can see up to an amazing 3 km distance to observe their prey and she can accelerate from 0 to 120km/h in only 3 seconds.
Then last but not least was the strong Leopard. Beautifully with its rosette markings and more muscular than the Cheetah.
As a family we really enjoyed the experience and learned a lot. I highly recommend to participate in one of their programs to get a better understanding of the whole rehabilitation and conservation there is. And as we- together as a family -answered all questions right, the kids got their 1st Awareness diploma.
Behind the scene at Tenikwa Wildlife Centre
Funding of the wildlife rehabilitation work
Primarily funded with the gate-takings of the Awareness and Education Centre which is open for the public and where Tenikwa offers their various great programs with the non –releasable indigenous Wild cats of Southern Africa and other wildlife often caught up in the human-wildlife conflict. The Rehabilitation Centre operates as a non-profit organisation and public donations, bequeaths and sponsorships are gratefully accepted.
The donations are utilized to achieve the conservation goal of ensuring that all wild animals admitted for rehabilitation have the maximum opportunity to return to the wild where they belong.
Tenikwa’s commitment and work
Through all the hard work, Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is today, one of the largest Wildlife Rehabilitation Centres in the Western Cape, and one of the few in the world that admits both marine and terrestrial species.
Approximately 230 – 300 creatures per year are admitted to their hospital arriving via the nature authorities managing the area, the general public and the community at large. Within the strong team a specialised wildlife veterinarian oversees the cases and trains the passionate staff at Tenikwa to ensure the maximum chance for each animal of full recovery and return to the wild.
Release of the animal
After an animal is stabilized and the hospital treatment is finished, the Tenikwa’s Release Protocol will come in force for each animal, and a plan is made. Potential release sites are identified and agreed in cooperation with Nature Authorities. Points like, where the animal was extracted, the circumstances which led to the event, the chance of survival after the release, and the impact of the release at the potential site are all important subjects to make the decision whether and where to release an animal.
Helping the locals: GIVE if you go to visit
But this is not all Tenikwa does, with the “adoption” of avillage creche, the Kurland Edu-Centre, they are helping these little cute South Africans kids to grow up in a better environment. The village has an 80% unemployment rate.
A tiny place with a GREAT BIG HEART, shiny eyes und happy smiles.
Another great inspiration that Tenikwa is really caring of its surrounding and not only for the wildlife but also for its own kind.
The creche is desperately in need for supplies such as food, cleaning materials, books, fluorescent light bulbs, toilet paper, soap and anything else that would help the improvement of the school environment for the little ones.
Tenikwa involves the children in different projects, such as painting murals on the walls at the penguin rescue pool, or having them make arts & crafts that can be sold at the Tenikwa shop. This way the young children understand from young age, that without hard work and dedication, nothing is certain. One hundred percent of the money collected at the shop on the sale of these items will go back to the creche
If you would like to support these cute little children, drop any supplies you are willing to donate at Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation and Awareness Center, or contact them for more details.
This is what we managed to donate, together with the help from some AMAZING mums from Switzerland! Thank you again.