The lodge is abuzz with activity, and not only because it’s summer season. The other reason for all the energy coursing through the reserve is the interns and volunteers. I have never seen so many at one time, and considering the passion and enthusiasm they bring with, you can just imagine the spirit in the place. I caught up with the new arrivals, sitting under the shade close to the dam, with Velvet and Iziba gamboling nearby. The term “cheetah girls” doesn’t apply anymore, as the team no longer consists of women only. I got a chance to chat to all of them, but as Cynthia Knuppe, a dental hygienist from the Netherlands, was literally on her last day I decided to share her interview first.
You may have read her post that she wrote for us about her cheetah experience (if not, you can read it here), and this already gave me a little insight into the cheetah girl that I had only met, briefly, once before. I enjoyed being able to get to know her a little better and I think the stand-out moment was when the team set out to track the released cheetahs. At one point during the tracking, Cynthia and I stood in the middle of the reserve, blinking against the blazing sun, watching handlers Leah and Marlene coax out the released female cheetah to check up on her. We had a quiet chat as we marveled at this amazing cat in the distance, adapting to her new freedom.
Cynthia marks the cheetah as her favourite animal. “They’re friendly and I like how they hunt. They put in a lot of effort to catch their food.” She also counts her time with the cats as some of her best times at Inverdoorn. “Little things like sitting with the cats at the dam,” she reflects. “Being in the nice surroundings, it’s quiet.” And it is these little moments that have brought her to the conclusion, as she ponders what she’s learnt during her time on the reserve, that “you must enjoy life while you can. Enjoy the little things.”
This was not her first time in South Africa, a country she says she loves for its “weather. The view of the mountain, the sea, and the culture, the people, the way of living.” She had done volunteer work previously, in 2011, and leapt at the chance to come back and do it again. “I always wanted to do volunteer work,” she says. “Take a break from working, but instead of a holiday, go further and do something. I want to see the world.”
And that is exactly what she has done, travelling to the Karoo and working with the cheetahs. “The work is quite physical,” she says of the more challenging moments, made more difficult in the time when she was the only volunteer on the reserve. “But I enjoyed it,” she adds. “And it was compensated by doing a safari.” This gave her the chance to get closer to animals on safari than she had ever been before, and the cheetah run at the end of the sunset safari was a definite highlight.
Being the only volunteer soon changed as others arrived and joined the cheetah workforce. At first coming across as fairly quiet, I soon saw how easy-going she is in the amiable way she gets on with her fellow volunteers and how easily she fell into conversation with me. Her time at Inverdoorn may be over, but she won’t be forgotten quickly. “I hope to give a hand as much as possible,” she says, and having relinquished her holiday, it is already evident that she had done exactly that.
Originally published on Inverdoorn Game Reserve.