Vredenheim is another Stellenbosch Winery where you can lose yourself in spectacular scenery and absorb country life only a short distance from Cape Town.
Apart from wine, the Estate is famous for its’ wildlife and it’s Big Cat Park in particular. An assortment of antelope and Birchell’s zebra graze lazily on the approach to the main buildings while a lone male ostrich keeps vigil, but the estate’s best asset by far has to be the magnificent gardens surrounding a beautiful lake. You’ll learn later too why I chose to focus on the garden.
Approved by Cape Nature, the Cat Park is educational, allowing one to see an assortment of Africa’s famed big cats at arm’s length (sic) – think brown and white lions, caracal (Rooikat in Afrikaans), cheetah and leopard – along with two Bengal tigers. I was taken by how knowledgeable the staff are and their affection for the cats is almost contagious, but I left feeling uneasy and saddened that these magnificent creatures are contained in a small space on a continent as vast as Africa.
Don’t get me wrong, the park is a sanctuary for many of the inhabitants, particularly the caracal who have long been outlawed by farmers in the Western Cape and even more so following a horrific and astounding 2011 legal sanctioning to cull 900 000 caraculs and jackals in the name of controlling livestock loss. (See also http://mg.co.za/article/2012-03-16-zille-attacked-over-predator-cull) Still, I’d love to see bigger enclosures that emulate their natural habitat.
Photographic opportunities are always limited when animals are kept in cages, but the tigers were by far the most entertaining, particularly at feeding time. And when one decided to chew on a car tyre to either pass the time or relieve a dental niggle. Even then the mesh spoils the moment though.