For this conservationist, there is only one way to start her day – by hanging out with leopards.
Babette De Jonge, 50, founded Wild Cats World in 2011 to help conserve endangered big cats, such as leopards and African wild cats.
Based in Kirkwood, South Africa, the sanctuary is home to four leopards, and one cub, cheetahs, servals, caracals, African wildcats, Africa’s smallest cat – the black-footed cat and a group of 8 feral cats.
By building up a mutual respect with the leopards – who were rescued from exploitation – Babette has been able to work hands on with them during their rehabilitation.
Babette told Barcroft TV: “I just go in naturally and I see how they behave and if it’s nice and fine, I’m staying. If not, I go out and the game is over.
“It’s nice to go in and they come to you and greet you. They give you a rub, sometimes they spray you. I just respect them, I’m not afraid to go in with them to keep this special bond.
“They are always playful or naughty, but not aggressive, never. If they were, I don’t think I’d go in anymore!”
Babette is passionate about providing the best forever home and care for the cats, as well as supporting endangered species with essential conservation programs, but she does not encourage others to interact hands on with big cats.
She said: “The rescues were four leopards, Feline, her brother Felix, another male Felipe and his female Felicia.
“For years, I was just an average animal lover. When I started to volunteer at sanctuaries, I thought, well there are certain things I really don’t like – how animals are being kept, how they are treated.
“So I thought I’d like to make it better for them, so we decided to put our project up here.”
Babette has rescued cats from canned hunting, exploitative petting centres and trapped or orphaned in the wild.
The conservationist said: “Feline, is an African leopard. We got her in 2011 when she was born. She was at a breeding farm, who took her away from her mother.
“I saw how she just had to interact with people, that’s why we brought her here with a better enclosure. We took her brother, so we sort of rescued him to be company for her.
“There’s a few rescue animals and a few, also ‘rescues’, but they’re more like born in captivity. They were born for trade, and for abuse and for the hunting – canned hunting – so that’s why we rescued them and brought them here to give them a better life.”
The rescues at the sanctuary include wild caracal kittens that were orphaned after a farmer shot their mother.
Sanctuary employee Zanell McCarthy added: “Every cat has a very different personality, like one can be very loving, one can be very playful, some are a bit calmer than others. You cannot really compare one cat to another.
“It’s just something you cannot describe to someone, the bond that you build up with these animals is just amazing.
“If you see the power that these animals have and the way that they play with each other, you see how strong they are.
“You must always be careful for the behaviour, you can check when they’re going to be naughty but it’s all play. I don’t ever feel intimidated by them.”
Babette ensures that their diet is as close to what it would be in the wild, so they feed on game meat, like e.g. impala, zebra, full prey like rabbit and sometimes a whole chicken.
The conservationist’s ultimate goal is to release the animals into the wild for who possible and, for those animals that must stay in captivity, she aims to release them into huge enclosures to give them an experience as close to the wild as possible. This is phase II and has already started.
Zanell said: “People think it’s like the king of the jungle, or that they’re the most aggressive animals, but they’re not. They’re actually very gentle animals – they’re very misunderstood.”
The four rescued leopards have now been relocated to Mpumalanga Province at Ubhetyan OAfrica for soft release back into the wild. And they are doing great! National Park is interested to release 7 leopards from Ubethyan, including the ones from WCW.
Babette said: “Cats in general, whether they’re domestic or very small or very big, I’m just attracted to their looks and also to the way they’re so independent but also so loving.
“The way they just look over you, like they’re the rulers of the world – I love that, it’s just great.”
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A life dedicated to leopards – being tolerated close to them in every stage of their life.
Babette de Jonge (Founder/CEO Wild Cats World/Wild Cats Magazine) keeps on investing in what’s best for them, backed up by her life partner and 2 great caretakers, taking care of the wild cats in S.A. when Babette (and partner) cannot be present.
Focus is now mainly on the African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) since phase I started of a release program, for youngsters Olive, Solo, Beau & Bahati.
Babette has an unbreakable bond with the leopards, started from the rescue of 4 adult leopards from hunting/exploiting farms, and leopard Felicia’s life from bad treatment and wrong diagnose by the vet.
An unbreakable bond, that doesn’t go without saying: leopards are predators and only meant to be. They are also treated as such. Our project wasn’t meant to be a petting project, but from start this is a true conservation project. A conservation project with different angles, which so far seem very successful: introductions of (un-related) cubs/adults (m/f), showing the social side of the leopards, Rescue, Rehabilitation, Breeding, Relocation, (Soft) releasing…………..Caring and Loving all the way!
Babette: “peope often told me ‘I can’t’ or ‘I won’t’ but so far the WCW project is still going strong.
I am grateful and humble that the leopards still allow me close during every stage of their life: growing up, eating, getting (sexually) mature, starting mating, having litters with healthy cubs, during the care of their cubs, up til the re-wilding and so far (soft) release of the first young leopards born with us and ready for the wild. The ultimate thing would be a successful release in National park or Private Game Reserve, but even if that wouldn’t become reality, we can say we succeeded with this project and contributing to the species, which is vulnerable but the way it goes soon very endangered. So it seems more that the ones having said ‘you can’t” or “you won’t” are probably the ones scared that “we will”
We can say fully YES to this. Just for the many people who contact us regularly, how they can start a facility, how they can keep big or wild cats, if we want to sponsor meat for their cats?
Just for the ones, who will always be there, having a say…..here’s something to realize, and yes please do compare with all other “ethical” projects. And please think twice before starting with a facility, or with big/wild cats, as honestly after reading this? Do you love the cats as much as we do? Willing to sacrifice everything?
With our relatively small facility, which we intentionally have (with gratitude to) on other’s land/farms and not our own (if you see the expenses below, you will understand we don’t want to waste money on anything other than the cats and their welfare), we monthly have expenses, which we foremost pay from our own pockets, the owners working hard every day in honest jobs to make this possible.
The donations we receive, will, as you will understand now, solely used to give us a bit of a break every now and then. So….donations always welcome….Volunteers pay for their own accommodation (provided by us) and own expenses/stay; they don’t pay us, so no exploit there as where WCW is concerned! And no exploit of the animals…no Trade, so no income over their backs as for having them petted, selling cubs/kittens (the ones that leave, are donated to the wild or exchanged for fresh blood, if with a equal good project).
To start constructing decent enclosures/camps, like we have for the current cats, which give enough space to the cats to be happy and to thrive well, be active and even breed well (when allowed for higher purposes). Even though we at any time want more, and look for the best possibilities.
The start sum was over SAR 3 million (in a bad time as for rate of currency to euros) …..leopards being most expensive of all projects at the same place, as for the required construction by Officials. Remember: own pockets, apart from a few donations.
Then the cats do eat….a lot daily. Big cats mainly game meat, but also occasional treats like rabbits, or complete prey (even game) with skin….count on SAR 20400 each month, even with one day donated chicken included; nice for a treat but not the best food to give daily.
Small cats also eat game meat, but also need a diversity of other meat or prey: rabbits, birds, mice, rats, chicken or meat-parts (hearts, liver, chickennecks, drumsticks..) separately bought…we don’t breed them to feed them, so this gives also expenses of R 8100 monthly.
Then there’s monthly vetbills, wages of the caretaker, accommodation costs to give a home to the caretaker and volunteers, flights of the owners regularly checking up on the project and cats welfare, or to investigate better opportunities, car for transport caretaker/volunteers/owners, treat (meal) to caretaker or volunteers as a ‘thank you’…..
DO WE LOVE OUR CATS??? Yes and honestly is there someone who loves them as much as we do? And then not in words or in slandering people who try their utmost to do the best possible?
We love the cats enough to even let them go wild and free, as that is for some species our ultimate mission; that is ultimate ethical conservation!!!
All donations or sponsoring are welcome, but to start with everybody starting a project shouldn’t have to beg for money……start a facility and the best care of these animals, only if you can afford it….and if YOU are able to give them the best, are willing to give them the best, without having to constantly beg!
As for transparency: People in doubt to sponsor or donate, are welcome to invest directly (so e.g. by paying expenses straight to the meat deliver, vet or constructor themselves, receiving the invoice).
Remember at any time the FIVE FREEDOM’S in animal care, outlining five essential aspects of animal welfare under human control.
-Wild Cats World-
A Dutch foundation trying to survive and do what’s best for the cats in South Africa, and world-wide.
Here’s the first pictures of the amazing leopards Olive, Beau, Bahati and Solo in their new huge camp, Phase I of their re-wilding programme, though the people involved instantly saw the wild already is truly in them.
The four young leopards were born in our facility, with the sole purpose of being released, and it is only because of Eastern Cape Officials not granting permits to the Private Game Reserves to release (our) leopards, uncastrated that is, this process did take longer than expected.
A few “sanctuaries” were contacted but were as expected not interested in true leopard conservation or well- being, but just on personal grudges & gain, and small talk, for which we are very grateful as a brand new door opened with the best of space for the leopards, and a new chance for a release in a National Park and Private Game Reserve that already showed interest.
Phase I is to relocate the four to a new place that offered the best of wild space, where they will stay without any human interference for the coming time.
So amazing and touching to see the four beauties, who have been born and raised at our place, in their new area, showing true leopard behaviour. How wonderful having to search for them, and get a glimpse. A dream coming true, and a huge step forward to reach our actual mission.
Of course we know that at any time, all have a say, and there’s always negative people around, who try to make something so beautiful look ugly. This doesn’t affect us though, and for sure doesn’t affect the leopards, who had a wonderful life already growing up with a loving leopard family, in our best care, and now received the ultimate proof of our love for them: a way to freedom. So let’s hope this will be as good as we all hope and think it will be.
Everything needs time and lots of funds, but rest assured that we always do what we promise, and the next promise is to the remaining leopards and other species in our care, we only reach for the ultimate improvement for them as well!!!
WILD CATS WORLD FOR THE WILD CATS!!!
The four young leopards born and raised (by their mothers/parents) at Wild Cats World have been successfully relocated to a huge re-wilding (phase I) camp in Mpumalanga Province, where lots of rehabilitation and releasing of leopards already had been done. Happy to say Olive, Solo, Beau & Bahati are settling in nicely, but we didn’t expect anything else of a highly adaptable species like the leopard. For the first re-wilding they will stay here, and the next step will be relocation to a huge boma in the National Park en Private Game Reserves (non-hunting) that showed interest in them already.
The project is named Phoenix-four, after the wild female 11 months old Phoenix. She has been rehabilitated and will be joining our leopards for further re-wilding. But she indeed is truly wild already. Plan for now is to have her with the 2 B’s, Olive will be with a rehabilitated gorgeous male and Solo with a gorgeous wild female…. All suitable leopards will be released in the wild again.
This is all made possible with the incredible help and dedication from a wonderful team. First of all CJ and Paul from Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation (WHWF), Deon, Onderstepoort vets and University Pretoria. Without all of them we, Dutch, wouldn’t be able to make this possible. So very grateful for this. Dreams coming true now!
In short the (one and only true) story of the Phoenix-Four: the 4 youngsters have been born at our project with sole purpose to be released. Their parents we rescued from a hunting list and exploited life, and we gave them the best life possible. These human-raised leopards gave birth and raised successfully the youngsters who are much wilder already than the parents, but will in the coming time be wild enough for a release. They show the right behaviour already. With our project we wanted to reach the unthinkable (for many…) as for rescue of exploited leopards, bonding with them closely, having them live peacefully as a group, with still huge respect to the owner and caretaker through every stage. Raising the cubs successfully, who are ready to go wild. Only one more stage and our mission is complete!!!!!!
Keep following the leopards!!!! Remember: if this all succeeds, THERE’S HOPE FOR THE SPECIES!!! And isn’t that what we all want???
Conservation of the smallest (spotted) cat of South Africa, second smallest of the world, is extremely essential. So we are glad to be part of this. Our cats (couple and kittens) will be part of the BFC stress measurement, the research done by/for University of Pretoria. This because there’s such a huge decline in captive black footed cats the last few years, and poor to no breeding results (in South Africa, but also in Europe). Also the wild species is under threat. For a year samples will be collected and taken to the lab for further investigation, and it will be compared to samples of the wild black footed cats. We can only learn more about this species, and have to do our best to save it and have the numbers increased again.