WORK CONTENT AND DESCRIPTION
The sanctuary is home to Lions and other big cats, as well as a rich variety of
species. These include Zebra, Wildebeest, Impala, Springbok, and many more. Many
of the big cats have been rescued from canned hunting and from awful conditions
in zoos. In 2013 several lions and tigers were rescued from a zoo in Romania.
As well as contributing to some valuable rescue and rehabilitation work you'll also
carry out research into the behaviour and interactions of lions within a group,
and between neighbouring lion groups. You'll witness and be involved in the extraordinary
and complex work for animal welfare and appreciate the experience of learning how
highly sensitive big cats are.
You'll also enjoy some of the best countryside South Africa has to offer. The Sanctuary
is situated against a backdrop of magnificent mountains, with spectacular views
of the Eastern Free State Plains below. In your time off, you can visit local towns,
Bethlehem and Clarens, or go further afield to the Golden Gate National Park and
the stunning Drakensberg Mountains.
Work at the sanctuary involves caring for the lions and other big cats, monitoring
their progress and behaviour, helping with visitor education and refreshments, administration
and maintenance work. Typical tasks include:
- feeding the lions and cleaning their enclosures
- observing the behaviour of the lions and the progress of any new arrivals
- helping with any medical treatments required
- building new structures for enclosures and helping with maintenance work
- helping with game drives and guided horseback tours for guests
- getting involved with the other activities at the lodge, such as the reservation
departments, presentation, accommodation, conferences, weddings, hiking trails and
- marketing activity, like brochure distribution to local towns and the surrounding
- guiding school children as part of their education program
This project is a great opportunity for someone who has a keen interest in big cats,
enjoys being part of a team and is prepared to get involved in all aspects of conservation
What sort of interaction is there with the big cats?
The Project operates a “hands off” policy with the big cats in its care. They will
never encourage handling of baby lions. This practice is at the heart of canned
hunting, which Vier Pfoten is actively trying to extinguish from Africa. Cubs are
rarely brought to the sanctuary, although in 2013 baby tiger cubs were brought into
One of the most moving and important aspects of volunteering at the Sanctuary is
the fact that you are actively improving the lives of lions that have been rescued
from canned hunting or life in tiny enclosures in a zoo. Many of the lions will
have become used to humans, and the main aim of the project is to rehabilitate them
as much as possible. Because of this, contact with humans is not encouraged as it
slows down their rehabilitation.
There are cases where interaction at a distance is encouraged. Some of the lions
and tigers have been so accustomed to human interaction as cubs that they actually
suffer if they are deprived of it later in life. These lions and tigers will be
identified to you on arrival and you are actively encouraged to spend some time
with them. Physical contact is not allowed.
What is a typical day like?
You will be set a timetable that is generally Monday-Friday between 8.30am and 4.30pm.
This does, however, vary depending on the weather and animal activity. A typical
day starts with 2 hours of animal monitoring. You will either monitor the social
interactions of a group or the interaction between two groups to see if they can
be placed together in the future.
Depending on the day of the week, you will then help with the feeding of the predators.
This is when you recognize that, despite being in captivity, these are still wild
animals! Feeding provides a real sense of what your role is - to create the most
natural environment possible for these remarkable animals.
Afternoons are spent building and/or implementing enrichment activities to enhance
the lions’ life at the Sanctuary. You will quickly find that (like humans) each
lion has its own personality, and what may work with one may not work with another.
It’s a fascinating process.
You might also find yourself assisting with school visits and tourist activities
at the lodge. These have educational benefits and also help provide the funds necessary
for the long term success of the Sanctuary.
ACHIEVEMENTS, AND WHY THE WORK IS IMPORTANT
Last year, the greatest project achievements and highlights included:
- The rescue of eight tigers (including two cubs) and four lions from a zoo in Romania
- The growing enrichment programme, allowing the big cats to develop the senses that
they would otherwise have in the wild
- The development of extra enclosures to provide a home for more big cats in a place
as close to the wild as possible
- The schools education programme has reached many youngsters in the surrounding area
How have volunteers helped to achieve these goals?
The time and effort invested by volunteers means that full time staff can continue
to care for and protect these big cats. Through the careful monitoring, research
and enrichments carried out by the volunteers, the big cats’ other needs can be
What are the project goals for this coming year?
More big cats do need to be rescued, and therefore more enclosures developed. We
also hope to continue the education programme to teach the local community about
the importance of animal welfare.