Note: I was not paid for writing this article. I visited Twala Trust independently and anonymously.
If you’d like to support a local conservation organisation whilst meeting some lovable (and cheeky) rescued animals, then Twala Trust Animal Sanctuary in Harare is a wonderful, family-friendly place to visit. A motley crew of animals now call Twala their home, ranging from lions, ostriches, chameleons and duikers, to dogs, cats and cockatoos.
Twala is first and foremost a rescue and rehabilitation centre: don’t let the cuddly animals and tranquil scenery fool you into thinking it’s just a tourist attraction. It’s a non-profit organisation that does veterinary and conservation work with local animals and communities. The simplicity and honesty at Twala is one of the things I like best about it: I felt like I’d stumbled into the African version of a James Herriot novel. Dogs, cats, monkeys, duikers, tortoises and other small creatures freely play around the lawns of a large house, and it is evident that they all see each other as family, despite their difference in species. Various enclosures around the grounds reveal more animals, such as marmosets, lions and meerkats, each one with their own story of how they came to arrive at Twala.
Getting to Twala Trust Harare
To visit Twala Trust, advance booking is essential. Visitor numbers are carefully controlled so that the animals don’t become stressed by too many interlopers traipsing around their home. Here’s a link to their contact details. The entry fee is not advertised publically, but it is not expensive. The usual time to visit Twala is early afternoon, so that you can spend around three to four hours there. This allows for time to have a picnic (brought by yourself) and afternoon tea (provided by Twala), as well as a tour of the sanctuary.
When you book for Twala, you will be given directions to get there, but it is an easy drive which takes less than an hour from central Harare. Here are some photos of our drive to Twala Trust.
An animal playground
When we arrived at Twala Trust, we were led through a gate into the the garden of a large property. A fence surrounded the garden, and beyond it was a small lake overlooked by msasa trees. Some animal enclosures lined the garden, and there were a few picnic benches, laid with tablecloths, overlooking the lake. This was the place where we would have our picnic lunch.
However, it was no ordinary picnic. No sooner had we unpacked our food than we were met by Horace, who is probably Twala’s most famous inhabitant. Horace is a vervet monkey whose mother was hit by a car on a busy road when he was very young. Someone found him, still clinging to his mother’s body, and he was brought to Twala, where he was nurtured to health by Sarah Carter and Vinay Ramlaul. Due to the high number of animal orphans at Twala, Horace was comforted by a Noah’s ark of other creatures. He built friendships with cats, dogs, duikers and more. Horace is free to leave Twala any time as he doesn’t stay in a cage, yet he chooses to remain with his adopted family (and even cuddle the new orphans, as you will see on Twala’s Facebook page).
And boy, is he a character. We attempted to eat our sandwiches whilst he bounded across the tables, rolled on the grass, play-tackled a tabby cat and playfully came back to grab a bunch of grapes. It’s clear that he thinks of Twala as his abode, and visitors as new candidates for his pranks.
After our memorable and comedy-filled lunch (the comedy being provided by Horace), we had some tea, coffee and biscuits to wash it down (provided by Twala). Another rescue, a duiker, bravely crept out from behind a bush and checked out the youngest member of our party. I think each one was as curious as the other!
With sustenance out of the way, the knowledgeable Colin took us on a guided tour of Twala, where he led a funny and engaging introduction of more animal residents. First, we saw some of the enclosures within the garden, where there were chameleons, cockatoos and lilac-breasted rollers, to mention a few. Then we went through the gate towards the lakeside, where we met Harriet the serval cat, with her big ears and beautiful spotty stripes. Then there were bushbabies, suirrels and lovebirds – and all the while, we were accompanied by Horace the monkey and Keiko the dog, who cavorted around as we walked around the sanctuary. Colin ensured that the kids in the group could see the smaller animals up close, which was a heart-warming scene to watch.
Some of my favourite creatures there were the cotton-tailed marmosets. These little guys just love the smell of perfume, and they wrap themselves around anyone who smells fragrant. They are also extremely curious, especially of cameras.
Twala is also home to a group of lions who were rescued from neglectful or abusive humans (and as a result can’t be released back into the wild). Twala makes every effort to ensure these lions are healthy and happy, so that they can live out the rest of their years as peacefully as possible. Twala resolutely and admirably does not allow their lions to be used for breeding purposes, because although it would be profitable, it would mean the lions would have a terrible quality of life and the breeding could support canned hunting. The lions at Twala are not allowed to be handled by the public, but they do have a special bond with the staff at Twala which is exhilarating to watch (from a distance).
A visit to Twala usually ends with a short walk to the lions’ enclosures to watch them being given their dinner. Like all the animals at Twala, the lions’ personalities are celebrated by the staff and volunteers with a love that is clear to see.
To end this post, I had to share this video from the Twala Trust Facebook page, where Shani the lion sneaks up on Shungu and gives him a fright. The video captures some of the personality that is shared by many of the animals at Twala, and shows the happiness that these creatures now enjoy in their ‘forever home’, despite their sad beginnings.
Top tip: What practical advice can I give about a visit to Twala Trust? Don’t wear smart clothes, and don’t wear white clothes either, as they’re likely to get dirty when you get close to the animals. Also, remember that Twala Trust receives many animals that have nowhere else to go, against a backdrop of economic ups and downs in Zimbabwe. Guests should regard their visit to Twala as a chance to see behind the scenes of a working rescue centre for domestic and wild animals, not as a tourist attraction.
Here’s a video of some of the antics that Horace gets up to while visitors eat lunch in the garden.
Note that Twala Trust previously leased land at the Bally Vaughan location, but they have now moved. You can read about my 2013 visit to Bally Vaughan & Twala Trust here. You can also read about a typical day at Twala from a volunteer’s perspective here.