I’ve chilled with eagles, swam with great white sharks (okay I was in a cage, but still) and walked with cheetahs – I’d consider myself to be pretty brave. That was up until the day I hesitantly entered a den owned by a pack of wolves.
As far as animal encounters go, I’m usually first in line – barring snakes and spiders. I still can’t get myself to touch a snake with the tip of my little finger. I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried – I even have the pictures to prove it – but that’s a story for another day.
Where was I? Oh yes, wolves. Grey Wolves and Timber Wolves to be precise.
The first thing I learned at the Garden Route Wolf Sanctuary is that everything I thought I knew about wolves is mostly inaccurate. The way these creatures are portrayed in movies (and no, I’m not talking Twilight) is a far cry from the truth.
I followed the guide as she took us into an enclosure of Wolf Dogs. They were absolutely beautiful, sadly, they were hardly interested in us. As their name suggests, they are more dog than wolf, but characteristically resemble more of a wolf. Sad really that people would mate dogs and wolves to create these Wolf Dogs because they’re not exactly people friendly, in fact, they mostly shy away from people and don’t turn out to be the best friend you hoped that cute little puppy would become.
The wolves at Garden Route Wolf Sanctuary are all rescues and not bred in captivity. There is a total of 10-15 wolves in three different enclosures and fortunately we arrived just in time for the face-to-face encounters. We made our way to the first den. All the while, “what big teeth you have” ringing in my head – but it was all in vain as the entire pack of wolves was more afraid of me than I was of them. In fact, even on their territory, they’re not likely to come near you. But it does leave you with an almost eerie feeling because they disappear through the bushes, you can’t see them, but be damn sure they can see you. After examining their den, all the while keeping an eye out in case one of them popped up unexpectedly, we swiftly made our way to the next enclosure. There’s something about these mythical and mysterious creatures that leaves one in awe, but one thing, being in that den was not comforting – as I suppose no wild animal with fangs sharp enough to remove the flesh from your bones is when you’ve invaded it’s space.
The second enclosure is a no-go zone. These wolves are teenagers. They’re curious, energetic and most importantly, NOT hand-reared. They go about their business chasing and growling at one another, completely oblivious to our peering eyes. There was a growl-off between one of the younger wolves and the alpha male which was fascinating to witness. I certainly didn’t mind not going in there, but thoroughly enjoyed observing their energetic display from the outside.
In the last enclosure my earlier forebodings were put to rest. If you’re lucky, there is one wolf, can’t remember her name, that will walk right up to you – close enough to stroke her, probably only once, before she retreats to safety on the other side of the den. She was hand-reared and is therefor more tolerant of us humans. I ran my hands through her fur, she sniffed at my clothing, then disappeared back to where she came from – all the while her ears up and very aware of my presence.
The guide took her time to educate us as much as possible about these mystical creatures. She was patient and tolerant of my earlier apprehension and clearly very passionate about her job.
The R100 you pay to enter offers a whole lot more than a wolf encounter. In addition, there are black backed jackals and wild dogs. There is a farm yard where you are able to feed goats, lambs, rabbits, guinea pigs, ostriches, ponies and a whole lot more. As with most sanctuaries, the facilities are basic – but why visit animals at all if you are expecting a glossy experience?!
I would recommend Garden Route Wolf Sanctuary to any animal enthusiast or parents wanting to entertain their kids. There’s lots to see and plenty of fun to be had. And if your children misbehave, you can always feed them to the wolves. Or not.
Location: N2, a few kilometers outside of Knysna
Tel: 074 303 0657
Opening hours: Monday – Sunday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Entrance fee: R100 adults and R75 Kids over 3. Kids under 3 = freeVisit website