Ashia, a world-class cheetah sanctuary outside Paarl in South Africa’s Western Cape, has this month been awarded Fair Trade Tourism’s ‘mark of best practice’.
Fair Trade Tourism (FTT)’s main goal is to promote best-practice responsible tourism in Africa, assisting tourism businesses to operate more sustainably through their membership and certification programmes. Over the past few months, Ashia underwent an intensive accreditation process, working alongside the FTT team to align processes and procedures with their rigorous requirements. Notably, Ashia received accreditation for three different categories – Volunteers, Accommodation and Attractions.
Chantal Rischard, founder and co-owner of Ashia states “Be it in the wild or at a sanctuary, wildlife animals should be treated with respect and not seen as ‘performing pets’ to generate income. We are proud to be part of the Fair Trade Tourism family as FTT is leading in setting the benchmarks for an industry that is in dire need of higher standards and clear protocols.”
Ana Lemmer, FTT’s CEO adds: “Fair Trade Tourism certification is a prestigious accolade for any African tourism business taking its commitment to sustainable tourism seriously and wanting to stand out in the rapidly growing responsible tourism market. Ashia’s existing high standards of business practice combined with a true conservation focus made the process much more streamlined – we are excited to support their ground-breaking conservation initiatives. Ashia has been certified in six months since registering and we salute them as an example of what can be achieved.”
An African name meaning ‘life and hope’, Ashia lies nestled at the foot of the dramatic Drakenstein mountains, providing the perfect setting for its resident cheetahs and the sanctuary’s education, research, fundraising and visitors’ activities.
Ashia was founded in October 2016 with the purchase of a 35ha working farm in Paarl cultivating grapes, olives and guavas. Over a period of 18 months, 10ha were transformed into the present sanctuary. At any given time around 14-18 cheetahs, as well as 2 leopards and 3 servals, call Ashia their home for educational purposes. A visit to Ashia offers in-depth educational experiences about small and big cats in human care and cheetah conservation in action.
Dedicated to fighting for the future survival of Africa’s most endangered big cat, Ashia’s focus lies on the release of captive-born cheetahs into the protected wild of selected Private Game Reserves forming the South African Metapopulation. Ashia’s Release Programme was initiated in 2017 and, after one year of research and discussions, went into operation in August 2018 with the release of a captive-born female cheetah onto Kuzuko, a 15 000ha private game reserve in the Eastern Cape’s Greater Addo area.
Ashia’s primary goal is to help prevent the further decline of cheetah populations and strengthen the gene pool through captive breeding programmes. Since the end of 2018, several cheetahs have been earmarked for release to undergo their wilding process. Ashia works closely with the management of South Africa’s Cheetah Metapopulation Project of Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), who assist in identifying suitable game reserves and provide advice where needed. Ashia is a not-for-profit undertaking; any financial surplus produced funds Ashia Cheetah Conservation NPC, which finances Ashia’s Cheetah Wilding and Release Programme, linking wildlife conservation and human welfare. Ashia does not support any cheetah trade; all releases take place at their own costs.
Visitors and overnight guests can refresh and eat at the Café with its sweeping mountain views, browse through the extensive selection of high-end gifts and memorabilia in the Boutique Shop, or explore the beauty and diversity of the farm on foot. A can’t-miss bucket list activity is signing up for an early morning cheetah run, for the opportunity to watch and photograph the world’s fastest land mammal. Four luxurious and spacious one- and two-bedroom suites, each en-suite with a fully equipped kitchenette, offer sumptuous comfort in relaxed surroundings. A stay at Ashia includes daily continental breakfast and an Animal & Farm Tour with an experienced guide to provide a firsthand peek behind the scenes into Ashia’s cheetah conservation efforts, as well as the opportunity to observe and ‘meet’ the resident cheetahs, servals and leopards at play in a natural looking environment. For guests wanting to get more hands-on, various volunteer and internship programmes offer the opportunity to spend purposeful time at Ashia. Gain a deeper insight into the sanctuary’s conservation efforts – volunteer/ internship time can be combined with a stay at a game reserve where cheetahs have been released, or at Cheetah Experience, Ashia’s partner project for ethical cheetah breeding, located in Bloemfontein (Free State). Ashia’s luxurious Volunteer House can accommodate up to 12 volunteers and is situated on the farm with sweeping views over the cheetah camps, orchards and the Drakenstein mountains. Two spacious, modern cottages next to the Volunteer House offer more privacy for guests wishing to spend a Working Holiday at the sanctuary. This allows the flexibility to choose if, and when, guests want to participate in the usual daily volunteer duties and social activities.
Ashia adheres to Fair Trade Tourism safety protocols and a no-touch policy with the cats on all activities, with very strict policies regarding visitors and volunteers. A maximum number of 10 visitors are allowed in the morning and again in the afternoon so as not to place any stress on the cats. To be part of any activities or to stay overnight, children must be 16 years of age or older. No ‘cub petting’ or experiences with adolescent cheetahs are allowed. As a result, visitors cannot take photos of cheetah cubs. Unfortunately, visitors cannot participate in any enrichment activities for the cats or during feeding times. To ensure and maintain the wellbeing and health of cheetahs in human care, Ashia staff run and walk them regularly. Visitors are allowed to participate in these activities from inside low secure ‘human enclosures’ that allow amazing photo opportunities without fences.
Visitors understand the no-touch policy and still enjoy being in the vicinity of the cheetahs and hearing their loud purrs. They acknowledge the conservation work Ashia accomplishes with the Release and Wilding Project and accept that Ashia is not a ‘petting place’. The way the sanctuary manages their cheetah experiences encourages questions and a higher attentiveness as well as interest in the challenges the species face than if visitors were distracted by interacting with the animals.
Ashia further supports small, medium and micro-sizes entrepreneurs by sourcing services and products from suppliers, manufacturers, craftsmen, artisans and artists primarily from the local community, alternatively from the greater Western Cape area, be it for the daily operations and running of the project, the Boutique Shop or the beautifying of the premises. Ashia sources employees from adjacent communities and provides advanced training and support on all employment levels. It is all about the animals at Ashia, however every staff member knows that not only is their dedication and care vital for the welfare of the sanctuary animals, but that everyone’s understanding, passion and belief in Ashia’s main objectives are crucial for the success of Ashia’s conservation efforts.
CONTACTS AT ASHIA FOR VISITORS AND GUESTS:
(e): firstname.lastname@example.org (t): +27 (0) 72 956 3282