I think it’s fair to say that most travellers to South Africa want to experience a wildlife encounter during their trip. Over recent years, ethical animal encounters have been at the forefront of visitors’ minds, and opinions have run high regarding the acceptable level of interaction.
Gone are the days of elephant back riding and big cat petting. In their place are sanctuaries giving animals more humane treatment while allowing visitors to have educational encounters.
Along South Africa’s Garden Route, I am pleased to say some fantastic ethical animal experiences can be enjoyed in the knowledge that the animal’s welfare is at the forefront of each establishment.
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How to Identify an Ethical Animal Sanctuary
Here are some essential questions to ask yourself.
Why are the animals at the sanctuary?
Learn where the animals come from and what happened in their previous lives. Were they bred in captivity or removed from the wild? If the answer is yes, then you should be raising some questions. Animals arrive at sanctuaries only after they become orphans or suffer a similar tragedy.
What condition are their living areas?
Now they are in a sanctuary are their sleeping and recreational areas similar to the spaces to which they are familiar? It is not a good sign If the animal is caged or in confined outdoor spaces. Animals should have freedom identical to that in the wild, where they can hunt and exercise in a natural environment.
How is their behaviour?
How are they acting? Are they pacing? Do they seem to lack energy or enthusiasm? Assuming the animals live in a comfortable environment, they should be spritely and content with no unusual modification to their behaviour.
If you can touch the animals, be extremely wary; this is not a condoned practice by the ethical wild animal code.
When will they be released?
Some will never be released as they have been bred into captivity and know no difference. The animals will, therefore, live the remainder of their lives in a sanctuary.
Others, however, will be rescued, rehabilitated and released under the guidelines for the sanctuary.
All your questions should be answered transparently regarding the release of an animal. Should you feel, they are not, then you are in your right to insist on the correct and truthful information.
You are not only your voice but a voice for the animals.
Exploring the Garden Route
The top places to experience ten ethical animal encounters along the Garden Route are all run as rehabilitation sanctuaries or education centres.
The Garden Route follows the N2 highway between Mossel Bay and Storms River, with scenic stops including George, Wilderness, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.
The majority of animal centres are close to one another, so you can stay in accommodation in Plettenberg Bay or Knysna and visit a selection over a few days.
You can do as I did and plan your stops along the Garden Route to coincide with the centres you wish to visit.
Read More About The Perfect 2-Week Garden Route Road Trip Through South Africa.
Where to Stay near the Animal Sanctuaries
The Lofts Boutique Hotel in Knysna
Milkwood Manor On Sea in Plettenberg Bay
Garden Route Animal Sanctuaries
Birds of Eden, The Crags, Plettenberg Bay #1
Visit this free-flight bird sanctuary in the Crags and enjoy a self-guided walk around the site.
The indigenous forest is sheltered underneath a two-hectare dome (the largest in the world) and is home to over 3,500 birds and 220 species.
Walking around the boardwalk will take you to different levels, some dense and some more open, enabling you to see the birds in a natural habitat.
Birds of Eden website for visitor information on times, pricing and directions.
Driving on the N2 Garden Route, you will see the signposts for the turning to Birds of Eden.
Monkeyland, The Crags, Plettenberg Bay #2
The world’s first free-roaming habitat for multiple species of primates.
Its goal is to teach visitors about the different primates and the threats they face in the wild. The monkeys roam freely, and there is no feeding or petting allowed.
It is home to 500 monkeys and 11 different species. Your interaction will be in the form of taking photographs and magical memories away with you.
Monkeyland website for visitor information on times, pricing and directions.
Located next to Birds of Eden, a combined entry ticket will allow entry to both.
Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, The Crags, Plettenberg Bay #3
Rescued and re-homed big cats can roam in natural habitats designed for their specific needs.
A non-interactive walk is available, meaning you can photograph the cats but not touch them, which causes them stress and anxiety.
The sanctuary educates the visitor about the plight that these majestic animals face and, by doing so, hopes to raise awareness for future generations.
Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary website for visitor information on times, pricing and directions.
Located next to Birds of Eden and Monkeyland, a combined ticket gives entry to all three sanctuaries.
Radical Raptors, The Heath, N2 Plettenberg Bay #4
This centre focuses on the rehabilitation of injured and sick birds of prey. Educational talks and flying displays are part of a visit to the centre.
Adult raptors have few predators and may live for 20 to 30 years in the wild; however, there are many reasons, including human impact, why they may require rescue. The centre aims to release raptors following rehabilitation.
Radical Raptors website for visitor information on times, pricing and directions.
Knysna Elephant Park – located just off the N2 between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay #5
Spend a morning, day, or sleepover at this elephant sanctuary near Plettenberg Bay.
Read my full blog for more details – Walking and Sleeping with the Knysna Elephants in South Africa.
Knysna Elephant Park website for visitor information on times, pricing and directions.
Garden Route Wolf Sanctuary – located just off the N2 between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay #6
Established ten years ago with a group of rescued wolves from across South Africa.
The park has now evolved as an awareness centre offering guided or self-navigated educational walks through the enclosures.
Daily feeding interactions are available. The natural setting of the sanctuary allows you to see wolves, jackals, huskies and African wild dogs in a natural habitat.
Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation – The Crags, Plettenberg Bay #7
Experience conservation wildlife tours from 1 hour to a full day at this sanctuary. Born into captivity, these big cats are non-releasable and are cared for at this non-profit centre alongside many species of birds and other indigenous creatures.
The centre takes in 250-300 injured animals each year with the ethos of rescue, rehabilitation and release.
Photography tours are available to capture images of the big cats without any up-close interaction with them.
Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation website for visitor information on times, pricing and directions.
Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve – Wittedrift, Plettenberg Bay #8
If you are looking for a safari, this is one of several in the area.
Stay overnight at one of the lodges on site for an even more enchanting visit.
Enjoy a horse safari or game drive to see the Big 5 and witness an animal encounter that will remain in your heart forever.
Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve website for visitor information on times, pricing and directions.
Meerkat Magic – Scenic Cape Route 62, Oudtshoorn 6620 #9
A 50-minute diversion from George (N2) will take you to an area known for meerkats and ostrich farms along Scenic Route 62.
Enjoy a sunrise or sunset tour with the meerkats and learn about the conservation project that the centre runs. Get up and close with these furry creatures and leave with a better understanding of them.
Amakhala Game Reserve – Off N2 between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown (65km outside Port Elizabeth)#10
At the far end of the Garden Route, this game reserve highlights the type of ethical animal encounters that allow you to view wildlife in natural surroundings.
I had the pleasure of spending three nights on this reserve at Quatermain’s Camp, and it was one of the most magical animal encounters I have ever had or probably ever will.
Thank you for showing an interest in the kinds of ethical animal encounters that can be part of your travel plans.
As you travel along the Garden Route, it is worth stopping to discover some of these standalone ethical animal encounters. I particularly enjoyed the Knysna Elephant Park, Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and Birds of Eden.