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the GREAT RESETSouth African Animals Sanctuary Alliance (SAASA)How Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary turned itself around to become one of only a few accredited sanctuaries in South Africa.
Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary was originally established as a zoo – known as Jukani Predator Park – on a farm outside Mossel Bay in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t based on a very sound conservation model – staff often went into the lion cages to wrestle with the animals for the amusement of visitors – and it soon found itself in financial difficulty. This meant there was a strong possibility that the animals would be sold off for canned hunting to recoup some of the losses. To ensure this didn’t happen, the business was bought in 2011 by the present owners, and the animals were moved to The Crags, near Plettenberg Bay, in 2012. Now a member of the South African Animal Sanctuaries Alliance (SAASA), Jukani has undergone a remarkable turnaround – from its early days as something of a problem child, to its current, enviable position as one of only a few facilities listed as a sanctuary by South Africa’s National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA). How did it achieve this?
Camps And Cages In its first incarnation as a zoo, Jukani kept the animals in its care in relatively small enclosures that were designed to make them as visible as possible to the viewing public. This included forward-facing sleeping shelters, bare wooden stumps and tree trunks for climbing – with no trees or natural shade – and (for those species that needed them), small and inadequate swimming pools.
Fundamental to the maintenance of any large predator in captivity are the management camps into which the animals can be enticed so that their main camps can be maintained and cleaned, and where the animals can be treated by veterinarians when necessary. In Jukani’s original configuration, these management camps took the form of steel traps that weren’t much bigger than the animals themselves – crates that caused real distress to the animals. Defining a Sanctuary While South African law includes a substantial body of legislation that deals with the treatment of animals – wild and domestic – it provides no accepted definition of what constitutes a wildlife sanctuary, and no enforceable guidelines.
Similarly, neither NSPCA, nor the South African Bureau of Standards (which does publish codes for zoos) publishes any guidelines for sanctuaries, although the NSPCA’s Wildlife Protection Unit does publish a list of accredited rehabilitation centres and sanctuaries (Jukani was one of only seven sanctuaries on this list in December 2021: see footnote).
This led SAASA to devise its own definition – which is that an apex cat sanctuary is a place where previously captive animals find a permanent home where they’re never touched by humans (except during necessary veterinary examinations), and where no trade or breeding takes place.
According to SAASA curator, Isabel Wentzel, “We take guidance from the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), and of course we comply with the requirements of our PAPA license.” (PAPA = the Performing Animals Protection Act, which was originally promulgated in 1935, and which was extensively amended in 2016. All centres that hold animals for display – including sanctuaries and rehabilitation facilities – are required to hold permits for animals in captivity.)
“More recently, we have also been guided by SATSA’S Animal Interaction Charter, which ensures an ethical approach to wildlife attractions and activities in responsible tourism, and which was introduced about four years ago,” said Isabel. (SATSA = the South African Tourism Services Association). New Facility “After the takeover, the first order of business was to build facilities that were more appropriate for the species at Jukani,” said SAASA’s marketing director, Lara Mostert.
SAASA has two other sanctuaries at The Crags – Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary and Birds of Eden – so it made management sense to find space close by (Mossel Bay is situated about 150 km west of The Crags, and the property there wasn’t conducive to a proper sanctuary).
“It took us about a year to build the new Jukani on a leased portion of Oakhill Farm, about 8 km from Monkeyland – and then it took us about three weeks to move all the animals, one by one in custom-made crates designed for the different species,” said Lara.
Jukani now boasts spacious enclosures, with roomy management camps – and, according to Isabel, it’s the management camps that hold the secret to the success of Jukani.
“It took about a year after the animals were moved to make lasting management changes, and to introduce new systems and protocols,” she said. “We had to condition the animals – but it didn’t take them very long to get used to the new normal, because once they realised that nothing would happen to them when they went into the management camps, that they weren’t bad things that caused stress (like the old trap cages had been), then they were happy to go into them whenever we need them to.
“The animals are very forgiving.”
Isabel explained that enticing the animals into the old trap cages was a fraught and often unsuccessful affair. “Thing got to the stage where some of the enclosures couldn’t be maintained – the fences fixed, or the camps cleaned or sprayed for parasites – because the animals just wouldn’t be lured into the traps. And animals that were eventually lured into the traps were kept there with bribes of pieces of meat: it was a way of trying to keep them calm. But the animals used to throw themselves against the bars, or scratch at them to try and get out. “This no longer happens. Now it’s just a matter of walking through a gate – and yes, we do lure them into the management camps with treats, but we never need to give them more than one, and the experience is so unstressful that even if the reason for getting an animal into a management camp is a visit from the vet, it’ll still happily go back into that same camp the next day.”
This also means that interactions with the animals (management time) is now limited to a few minutes a week – and it enforces SAASA’s no-touch rule.
“Our hands-off policy is non-negotiable,” said Isabel. “Guests are constantly reminded that touching and feeding are not allowed in our facilities, and, since we list touching as a first offence, members of staff can be fired for petting any animal in their care.
“There is no conservation value in petting big cats, or any wild animal for that matter.”
With standard operating procedures that cover everything from the sourcing and preparation of food, to the disposal of waste, and to fly and pest control, etc., Jukani now runs smoothly and professionally.
“The inspectors from the NSPCA and anyone else can walk in here any day and see – everything works right, every day of the year,” said Isabel.
Contented Animals “About a year after we instituted the new rules, we started to notice a change in the way visitors, guests, and even animal communicators were talking about our animals: they began noticing that they were more relaxed, and even that they were more visible because they weren’t trying to hide away from people anymore,” said Isabel. “As far as the animals were concerned, the people had become part of the furniture now – they were no longer an intrusion.”
“As far as the animals were concerned, the people had become part of the furniture now – they were no longer an intrusion.” This was bolstered by, for example, ending the practice of feeding animals in front of the guests. (“We still feed once a day, but nowadays we don’t make a show of it.”) “It’s like this,” said Isabel. “These animals are kept in electrically fenced camps, and we now need to give them a bit more respect; we need to let them be, to do what they want to do.
“Yes, we have a routine, and they know it. But when it’s over, it’s over, and they aren’t continually subjected to human interaction” – which is the secret to the success of the revived Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary. And, since success breeds success, the owners have now purchased Oakhill Farm in its entirety, which means that Jukani will no longer occupy leased land after transfer takes place in late 2022.
Its future is now secure. “It’s become a true sanctuary, and we’re proud to say that, from the reactions of our animals and our guests, Jukani has earned its status amongst the very few true sanctuaries in South Africa today,” said Lara. Resources The South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance (SAASA): PBO Number 200/060 667/08 (As the sole custodian of all the animals in its care, the South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance funds itself by means of responsible wildlife ecotourism, thus achieving a balance between the needs of conservation, and the economic reality of running the sanctuaries.) ● National Council of SPCAs - Wildlife Protection Unit: Accredited rehabilitation centres and sanctuaries, January 2020 - December, 2021 http://nspca.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/NSPCA-Accredited-Facilities-2021.pdf ● NSPCA: Ethical Wildlife Tourism https://nspca.co.za/wildlife-protection/ethical-wildlife-tourism/ ● SATSA Animal Interaction Charter https://satsa.com/animal-interaction-charter/