Every time we venture up that wild coastline where the forest meets the sea, known as South Africa’s Garden Route, we know there are three places we simply have to stop in at. This being Monkeyland, Birds of Eden, and Jukani.
Owned by the South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance (SAASA) and led by some of the most passionate animal people you will ever meet, each sanctuary offers a totally different experience. At Monkeyland you can meet a range of unique primates from around the world, while at Birds of Eden you have the opportunity to walk through a forest where birds abound and then Junkani offers the chance to get up close and personal with big cats.
Keep reading to discover more about each sanctuary and the highlights from our most recent visit:
Quite unlike any other animal sanctuary you will visit, at Monkeyland the animals aren’t confined to cages or other human constraints. Here they are free to roam in the forest they call their home. Visits are only done by guided tour with an expert who will doll out interesting facts and information about the various primates you’ll see along the way – just be sure to lather on the insect repellent before stepping into the forest.
Monkeyland is home to various rescued primates that have come from zoos, private homes, and circuses all over the globe. The call of the howler monkey stands out for me every time I visit, welcoming one and all to their home in the trees. Recently the sanctuary welcomed some new spider monkeys, with some also going to Monkeyland’s newly opened sister sanctuary just outside Durban. On our most recent visit, we were delighted by the antics of excited baby ringtail lemurs and tiny newborn brown capuchins.
What also got me excited is the introduction of Monkeyland TV – with webcams placed all around the forest you can watch the antics of these monkeys from the comfort of your home or even buy a part of the forest to secure their home for the future.
Birds of Eden
My personal favourite of the three SAASA sanctuaries, Birds of Eden is one massive aviary that houses birds from all around the globe, including a good number of African endemics.
The sanctuary is spread over a massive area with trees, shrubs, waterfalls, and ponds all located within the area, allowing the birds to make a home in the environment that takes their fancy. You literally walk on boardwalks up in the trees as the birds fly freely around you. This is a great way to introduce kids and non-birders to the wonders of the avian world.
Birds of Eden recently introduced a flock of new birds to the aviary, having rescued a fair number from zoos and private breeders around South Africa, allowing a new experience with birds both big and small. In addition, what really got to me when visiting is learning about all the work that goes on behind the scenes.
For instance, SAASA is currently building a number of separate enclosures for abandoned African Grey Parrots. While not open to the public, these enclosures, which cost R600,000 a piece, will provide a safe and secure home for these parrots where they can live out their days in an environment that closely resembles their wild home. Find out more about this project and how to donate here.
Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary
While providing a safe home for rescued big cats obviously means that freedom to roam is not possible, Jukani offers ultra-large enclosures for felines. Here you can get a chance to see some of Africa’s big cats as well as others from around the globe including Siberian and Bengal tigers, Jaguars and Pumas. In addition, the sanctuary is also home to other predators like jackal and hyena.
I was delighted to discover that a pack of rescued wild dogs I had seen on a previous trip had since been rehomed and were back living in the wild. This time I enjoyed spending some time with a White Bengal Tiger. While unfortunately he is destined to spend the rest of his days at the sanctuary, he looked like he was enjoying himself, cooling down his own private plunge pool.
So, the next time you’re in the Garden Route, be sure to dedicate some time to exploring these fantastic animal sanctuaries. One ticket gets you into all three and with some fantastic specials currently on the go for locals, there is no better time to visit!