Predator Protectors

09 June 2015 by Katy Johnson

I have never been a fan of Zoo’s or Wildlife Parks, especially after being lucky enough to live in the Kruger National Park for a number of years. However, curiosity about the Cradle of Life Biopark along with the urge to see a Siberian Wolf up close and personal got the better of me. 

I have to be honest, I went to the Biopark with a number of preconceived ideas. What I never expected was to leave there with a much changed perspective on keeping animals in captivity and a huge amount of respect for the owner.

The Cradle of Life is situated on the R38 just outside Badplaas and is the vision of one man. A man with a dream to leave a wildlife legacy, which began with him buying 83 farms! He tore down the fences, buildings and human structures and allowed nature to once again take the reins. It has taken 12 years of rehabilitation, but it is now almost impossible to believe that the Cradle of Life Biopark has been anything else but pristine grassland. Hand in hand with the rehabilitation of the land came the reintroduction of species that would once have been found here, reversing the effects of man and giving nature a second chance.

Second chances are the recurrent theme at the Cradle of Life Biopark as my friendly and enthusiastic guide for the feeding drive, Mayra, was quick to explain. The animals we were about to see had not been taken from the wild, to be displayed for our amusement but had been displaced by or were the victims of human activity. The Biopark is their sanctuary, their second chance! 

Feeling already better in the knowledge that none of the predators we were about to see had lost their freedom on account of me, I started to really enjoy the tour. Mayra bombarded us with interesting facts about the species we saw on route to the predator enclosures. Who would have guessed that a Giraffe’s heart could weigh 12kgs and an Eland could jump a 3m fence? Certainly not me! 

A 20 minute drive through the impressive grassland scenery of the 19,000 hectare reserve, whilst trying to ignore the ominous thunderclouds forming overhead, brought us to the predator encampment. 

Bismarck the young Siberian Tiger was the first animal introduced to us. Instantly my heart plummeted, as compared to the wide open expanse we had just driven through his enclosure appeared quite small. A girl in the tour group raised this same concern. Mayra’s explanation that in traditional zoos, where many of these animals had come from, the enclosures would have been a lot smaller seemed to allay our concerns. Watching Bismarck tackle what was a cow’s hind leg with a childlike enthusiasm and tigerish tenacity, it’s clear that he is a fighter. He had been born prematurely and rejected by his mother at birth, and his only chance of survival was by being hand reared. As second chances are what the Cradle is all about, the dedicated staff set about giving him around the clock care. Thanks to their dedication they have a boisterous and charismatic, if slightly un-coordinated, tiger to show for it. 

As we progress through the enclosures it soon becomes clear that Bismarck is not the only animal to have been given a second chance. In fact all the animals here have. Some like the Jackals have arrived after being saved from hunting traps. Others, like the Siberian Wolves (which incidentally were smaller than I had imagined but just as marvellous), were rescued from the exotic pet trade. Queeny, the Hyena, had been a problem animal which would have been shot if she had not been given refuge here. The majestic White Lion pride could have easily become canned hunting trophies. Every animal seemed to have a story to tell.

Enclosure after enclosure, the animals changed but the story remained the same, each had been given a second chance at the Cradle of Life. In some cases it is not just the individuals getting a second chance, but the species as a whole. Wild tiger populations are now so low that conservationists believe the only way to save the species is by ensuring the numbers in captivity are kept high enough so that the gene pool does not become too depleted. The Cradle of Life is part of the international breeding program that is making sure this happens. 

What’s more as Mayra explained, “It’s not just about giving animals a second chance. By giving people the opportunity of seeing these animals, hearing their stories and learning more about them, we are educating people to make better decisions. Hopefully we will get people to think twice before wanting an exotic pet or setting traps on their land.”

The Feeding Drive took a little over 2 hours and in that time my view of enclosed animals changed dramatically. I will still boycott a zoo that is purely there for entertainment. But one that provides a second chance for an individual or, more importantly, a species and that seeks to educate and impassion our next generation of people to save and conserve our natural heritage. Well that is something completely different and a project I will now whole heartedly support.

 There is also a lot more to the Cradle of Life than its predators. The accommodation there is fantastic, with beautiful self-catering chalets, where you can braai (BBQ for non-South Africans) with a backdrop of the gorgeous sunsets behind the iconic Genesis Route Mountains. Or choose to eat at the reasonably priced restaurant that serves a good variety of great tasting food, from” light bites” to more substantial meals [I can strongly recommend the chicken and pineapple burger!]. It is the perfect location from which to explore the Badplaas section of the Genesis Route.

The Cradle of Life is renowned for being a predator paradise. But it is also an education centre, a monument to rehabilitation, a lifeline for a species, a second chance for some of this planets most captivating predators and perhaps most poignantly the realisation of one man’s dream to give something back to nature.



Cradle of Life Information