If Noah offloaded his ark in the Cape Winelands, the results would look something like Butterfly World – a colourful, chaotic menagerie.
A hedgehog scurries past a tortoise nibbling on salad. Marmosets compete with butterflies for attention. Spiders, scorpions, and chameleons crawl out of sight.
An owl looks on, unimpressed. The diverse creatures are united by one, heartbreaking commonality: each was originally plucked from their natural home. Some were intended to be sold across the world, abused and injured along the way.
Others were welcomed into homes as unusual pets, then swiftly abandoned when the reality of caring for them set in. Removed from their original habitats, they were unable to fend for themselves.
So Esther van der Westhuizen built a haven for these exotic animals to ensure their survival and give them a safe home.
Van der Westhuizen founded the sanctuary in 1996 together with her friend, Matty Pretorius. By developing the perfect conditions to attract butterflies, people can admire and learn about them without compromising the winged creatures’ freedom.
Over time, Van der Westhuizen started accommodating exotic animals when she realised how many were abandoned and in distress.
“The creatures we take in originate from all over the world,” she says. The former Zoology lecturer describes the place as a home away from home for the animals. But it’s no walk in the park for her.
“We have to bring in scientists and specialists to make sure every need of every animal is met,” Van der Westhuizen says.
“They eat specialised food. They need to be kept in specialised cages and circumstances. You need to give them certain humidity, certain temperature.”
They now home over 750 animals who have settled in to a better life.
While Van der Westhuizen does allow people to visit, she is firm about the fact that ideally, these creatures should be kept in their original habitats where any interference for their wellbeing isn’t necessary.
“We want people to appreciate these animals and understand the importance of these animals to stay wild,” Van der Westhuizen says. Until then, they have a safe home with her.