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South Africa’s little-known Wolf Sanctuary

I visited David Daitz about 15 years ago when he was CEO of CapeNature, and was surprised to see a very large and stunning poster of a wolf on his wall.  “What on earth?” I asked.  David had recently visited the wolf sanctuary in the south of France which, he pointed out, at that time received more tourists than Cape Town did.  “It’s a reminder of the attraction of nature,” he said.

One of the packs of the almost 40 wolves at the Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary.  Photo: Tania Thompson Poole
One of the packs of the almost 40 wolves at the Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary.  It should be a much more popular destination.  When we enquired about it at the Tsitsikamma tourism office at Storms River bridge, the woman tried to persuade me to go to the one — which by all accounts isn’t a sanctuary at all — on the way to Knysna.

The last time I visited the Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary was about 12 years ago, when it opened.  I had a pet wolf, Akela, who lived with me for almost 15 years.  There were only two enclosures and about 12 wolves.  Akela ignored them totally, probably terrified I was going to leave her there… she knew where her bread was buttered!  And she ended up living a rather extraordinary life with her best friend, Kenya the Staffie.

This time, I was curious about how Beezus would respond to the wolves.  He was raised by Akela for the first 14 months of his life — she regurgitated her food for him and spent hours and hours with him in the garden.  Today, Beezus has many characteristics that don’t fit in with his real parents.  One example: when he misses someone, he howls… a tiny, tiny howl, but then he is a tiny dog — his whole body is the same size as a wolf’s head!

Akela and Beezus
Akela and Beezus — lessons for a lapdog in 2012

He last saw Akela in September 2012, 20 months earlier.  How much does he remember?  He doesn’t respond to her name at all.

I carried Beezus into the sanctuary and, when he caught sight of the first wolves, there was the usual low growl.  As we got closer, his growl stopped completely and he was silent for the whole time we were there.  He just stared at them, even when they came close to the fence to sniff him… and he sniffed back.  Usually when he’s intimated by big dogs, he turns his head away… but not there, he just stared and stared.  And he was more subdued than usual as we drove on to Plettenberg Bay afterwards… he was dead quiet, lost in thought.

What were they both thinking?
What were they both thinking?  What were they communicating?
So likeAkela!
So like Akela!

For me, seeing a wolf again for the first time in 18 months, when Akela and Kenya died, carried mixed feelings.  Yes, some of them looked so like Akela but I realised how different Akela was to all those at the sanctuary.  Her pack had been Kenya and me since she was five weeks old… she knew the luxury of beds and couches to lie on; of long, long walks; of farms and beaches to explore.  Kenya was her best friend — she looked after him and he was her Linus blanket at the same time.  Akela wasn’t phased by cats… and raised Beezus.

These are packs of semi-wild wolves, because they do have regular contact with people and are fed by people.  Some came from homes where they couldn’t be managed, but they had formed new packs and I would have been the intruder, interrupting a clear social order.  I’d need a lot of re-assurance before I’d step into most of those camps!

Draco Pack
Draco Pack

It was at the last camp, with the oldest inhabitants of the sanctuary, where my feelings changed.  These were the wolves that had been rescued from East London zoo — the Draco Pack.  The entire pack wanted to play, and the lead was taken by the alpha male.  There was a connection similar to the one I had with Akela.

I left with a very heavy heart.

It’s a pity Tsitsikamma Tourism doesn’t have the same insight as David Daitz.  It is an added reason to visit the area; it can benefit tourism.

The Lupus Foundation, trading as the Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary, is the only registered Non-Profit Wolf Sanctuary in South Africa.

Photos: Tania Thompson Poole


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