Menu
Africa / South Africa

10 Ethical and Amazing Animal Encounters along the Garden Route

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 visitor’s minds, and opinions run high regarding the level of interaction deemed acceptable.

Gone are the days of elephant back riding and big cat petting. In their place are sanctuaries giving animals more humane treatment while still allowing visitors to have both educational and memorable encounters.

This article may contain affiliate links. This means that if you purchase after clicking on a link, I may receive a small commission. Read the full disclaimer here.

Decorative Separator

How to Identify an Ethical Animal Sanctuary

Some essential questions to ask yourself.

Why are the animals at the sanctuary?

Learn where the animals come from, and what had happened in their previous lives. Were they were 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? If caged or in confined outdoor areas this is not a good sign. 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 are allowed to touch the animals then 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.

Decorative Separator

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 Plettenburg 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.

Pinterest graphic of a monkey

Where to Stay along the Garden Route

The Lofts Boutique Hotel in Knysna

Milkwood Manor On Sea in Plettenberg Bay

Decorative Separator

Garden Route Animal Sanctuaries

Birds of Eden, The Crags, Plettenberg Bay #1

Visit this free flight bird sanctuary located 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 different species. As you walk around the boardwalk it will take you to different levels, some dense and some more open and this will enable 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 to turn off for Birds of Eden.

Parrots on a branch in birds of Eden
Decorative Separator

Monkeyland, The Crags, Plettenberg Bay #2

The world’s first free-roaming habitat for the multiple species of primates. Its goal is to teach visitors about the different primates and the threats they are facing 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 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.

Monkey in the trees at monkey land
Decorative Separator

Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, The Crags, Plettenberg Bay #3

Rescued and re-homed big cats are free to 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 of the plight that these majestic animals face and by doing so, hopes to raise awareness to 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.

Male Lion with Cub
Decorative Separator

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.

Raptor in Flight
Decorative Separator

Knysna Elephant Park – located just off the N2 between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay #5

Spend a morning, a day or even sleep-over at this elephant sanctuary near to Plettenburg 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.

Decorative Separator

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.

a Timber Wolf at the sanctuary
Decorative Separator

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 so are cared for at this non-profit centre alongside many species of bird and other indigenous creatures. The centre takes in between 250-300 injured animals each year with the ethos of rescue, rehabilitate 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.

A cheetah at Tenikwa ethical encounter centre
Decorative Separator

Plettenburg Bay Game Reserve – Wittedrift, Plettenberg Bay #8

If you are looking for a safari, then 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.

Plettenburg Bay Game Reserve website for visitor information on times, pricing and directions.

Giraffe eating leaves in an ethical animal encounter
Decorative Separator

Meerkat Magic – Scenic Cape Route 62, Oudtshoorn 6620 #9

A 50-minute diversion from George (N2) will take you to an area know for meerkats and also 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.

an ethical animal encounter with 3 Meerkats looking out over the park
Decorative Separator

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 gives you the chance 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.

zebras at Amakhala game reserve

Thank you for showing an interest in the kinds of ethical animal encounters that can be part of your travel plans.

As you are travelling along the Garden Route, it is well worth stopping to discover some of these standalone ethical animal encounters of which I particularly enjoyed the Knysna Elephant Park, Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and Birds of Eden.

Which ones would be on your itinerary?

Pinterest Graphic of a lion
Read Next: Walking and Sleeping with the Knysna Elephants
About Author

Angela Price

Angie is a full-time travel writer with over 30 years of travel experience. She has always had a passion for travel, and after a 3-month world trip with her 18-year-old son, she created her popular travel blog to share her adventures with a wider audience. When Angie is at home in the UK, she enjoys exploring the English countryside, visiting castles and gardens and planning her next big adventure. Her motto is "Live Life Wandering not Wondering".

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
33 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Karthika
1 year ago

I am so glad we are talking about ethical animal encounters especially when we travel. It is so important to be aware and to do the right thing no matter where we go especially when we are spending tourism money that could do harm rather than good!

Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson
1 year ago

Fabulous list! I’m planning the vacay for next year and it’s a yes please to all these encounters. Thanks for doing the hard work. I absolutly love meerkats!

Andrea Said
1 year ago

Thank you for this! It’s on the bucket list and you saved me the time of researching ethical sanctuaries to visit (which is difficult to find).

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Andrea Said
1 year ago

You will love the garden route, it is one of my all-time favourite destinations. The wildlife encounters are amazing.

CHELSEA MESSINA
1 year ago

LOOKIT THESE CUTE BABIESSS!!! 😍 Your pictures are absolutely incredible! I’m always looking for ethical places to visit the animals, i’m pinning this! 💜

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  CHELSEA MESSINA
1 year ago

Glad you found it useful 😃

Ann
1 year ago

I love all the beautiful images you have found!
Have to admit, this kind of trip makes me green with envy. I am not much of a natureperson, but if you mix in some beautiful animals, I am totally sold!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Ann
1 year ago

I loved everything about South Africa. Especially the wildlife!

Sarah
Sarah
1 year ago

Love this. I’ve been planning a trip to South Africa for ages. Doubt it will be this year though. But I love wildlife encounters so was surprised to discover there were quite a few in South Africa that weren’t ethical, so pleased now to discover a list of ethical sites. Thank you

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Sarah
1 year ago

I hope that you get there one day. South Africa is such a magical country.

Caroline
1 year ago

I totally agree with helping and supporting ethical animal encounters – I feel it makes it more meaningful. It’s been many years since I drove the garden route but am thinking of adding a couple of these places to my destination list next time I head that way! Thanks!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Caroline
1 year ago

That’s great. I hope that more ethical animal places start appearing around the world. I think people are finally getting the message that riding elephants and taking selfies with tigers is not the right thing to do.

Erin Foster
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing this. I love animals but it so hard to see people doing things that harm them or make their lives terrible just for our entertainment. I agree with Shafinah that we need more coverage on ethical animal encounters. So many people share their encounters but it makes you question how they got that selfie. I will save this for when I go to South Africa. Thank you!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Erin Foster
1 year ago

I am pleased you found it useful and glad you will refer to it on a South Africa visit. It breaks my heart when I see people taking selfies with tigers and then saying it’s ok it was in a monastery or the tiger likes it!! Drugged and declawed animals have no say in their existence so it is good that conservation centres are set up to teach people how to have an encounter with an animal in the correct manner.

Shafinah Neville
1 year ago

I love this! I think ethical animal encounters is a topic that can really do with more coverage in the travelling industry and I feel so, so, so happy whenever I chance upon someone who actually does something about it. I’ve always wanted to write something but just really never knew where to start – super duper kudos to you for charting the path! ❤️

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Shafinah Neville
1 year ago

Thank you so much for your kind words. It makes blogging so worthwhile when you are told you are making a difference and helping people with useful information.

Rae
1 year ago

This is such great info. The Garden Route is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, but I didn’t know there were also so many wildlife sanctuaries and opportunities for ethical encounters. Thanks for sharing – I’m definitely saving this for reference on my next trip.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Rae
1 year ago

I’m glad it has proved useful for your next visit.

Farrah
1 year ago

I love visiting animal sanctuaries, so finding out more about how to look for the good ones is definitely helpful! Thanks so much for this! <3

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Farrah
1 year ago

You are welcome

Caroline
1 year ago

I am so happy to have come across this post. It is hard to find sift between the actual ethical sanctuaries and the ones that have very good marketing. This was really useful thank you!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Caroline
1 year ago

Thank you.

Bliss
Bliss
1 year ago

This is such a great post for South Africa. Seeing the animals is my dream, but I would hate to support a company that wasn’t ethical.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Bliss
1 year ago

I think that some companies hide what is really going on beneath clever advertising and visitors inadvertently think they are visiting somewhere reputable. I hope this post helps visitors to this are know that these locations are run using ethical practices.

Olivia
Olivia
1 year ago

Love this post! I’ve always wanted to go on a safari, but I’ve been worried about which one has ethical practices. This is a great list to see all those majestic creatures!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Olivia
1 year ago

If you can go on safari it is one of the most magical experiences you will ever have. I hope you get there one day.

World of Lina
World of Lina
1 year ago

All these places look really great and safe to visit! Thanks for sharing 🙂

Wendy Lee
1 year ago

I had no idea there were so many animal sanctuaries in South Africa. And I really appreciate that you identify only the ones that are ethical and explain why. I would love to see some of these place when I get to South Africa.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Wendy Lee
1 year ago

I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I hope you will get to visit South Africa at some point.

Nic Peters
Nic Peters
1 year ago

South Africa has so much to offer and you really have highlighted the best parts, the animals, a great read and gutted to have missed out on some of these amazing sanctuary’s along the garden route. Another great read Angie, keep them coming 😁

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Nic Peters
1 year ago

Thank you Nic. Perhaps one day if you return you could check out some of the sanctuaries that you didn’t visit on your last trip.

Chloe Prince
Chloe Prince
1 year ago

Love this post 😍 so good to see someone encouraging others to visit protective and educational wildlife sanctuaries! Had a look at quatermaine’s camp too it looks brilliant! I think i’ll be on my way to SA very soon! Thanks for the post 🦁🐵🐢🐆🦩

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Chloe Prince
1 year ago

I am so glad you enjoyed the post. South Africa is just a magical place so I hope that you make it there one day.

33
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x