Driving through the country lanes in Smarden the last thing you expect to hear is the roar of lions or catch a glimpse of a Amur Tiger; but you can and it may be one of Kent’s best kept secrets. Last week I was invited to spend the morning at a very special place called WHF a big cat sanctuary set in the heart of the countryside in Smarden, Kent. WHF Big Cat Sanctuary was the vision of the Sampson family which over the years has progressed to be the private sanctuary of zoo retired and circus rescued big cats that it is today. Today they are also a highly successful member of the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme with a strong belief and support of big cat conservation.
Ranging from the Amur Tigers, Clouded Leopards, Pallas cats, African Lions, Servals and many more; WHF ‘s peaceful grounds is currently home to 50 cats from different backgrounds with a dedicated team waiting on them hand and foot (paw and paw?). Alongside being excited, I was also incredibly intrigued to visit the site, upon arrival I was instantly felt reassured by the calm relaxed atmosphere across the grounds which is reflected by the laid back attitude of every cat I visited; not one fussed and unsettled my presence. Not one agitated or pacing, just settled and safe in their tranquil countryside environment.
As my tour of the site continued, I was told stories of the individual cats, listened to tales of their unique personalities, and was informed of the well thought out enrichment and trust training that regularly takes place to help make Veterinary Surgeon visits less stressful for them. During the tour I felt reassured of the high welfare standards reached by the site but also from the little anecdotes that were shared it really showed that the cats are at the heart of every member of staff, they know these cats inside out and have such a committed love for them. As a private collection, WHF Big Cat Sanctuary are not open to the general public but they offer limited numbers of unique experiences which allow you to spend time here. The experiences available include:
-Big cat encounter: A unique experience to enjoy approximately 2 hours on a guided tour of some of the most endangered species of cat in the world. Participants have the opportunity to hand feed one of the cats. The cats will at all times remain safely in their enclosures.
– Ranger for the day: Spend the day shadowing on of the cat keepers, along includes the opportunity to feed one of the big cats.
– Photographic workshops: Spend the day alongside one of photographic team capturing beautiful images of the cats, suitable for beginners to experts. Group workshops and one-to-one sessions available.
-Luxury Overnight Lodge Stay:
– Afternoon tea at the Heritage Lodge Welcome Centre, overlooking the lions.
– VIP tour of WHF with one of our keepers, where you will be able to see the wonderful cats
– Evening meal
– A peaceful nights sleep, surrounded by some of the world’s most magnificent predators!
– Waking to the roar of the lions!
– Breakfast will be served at Heritage Lodge Conservatory
– A walk on the wild side with one of the Keepers; your morning tour includes a hand feed of one of the cats.
How amazing do these experiences sound? I was shown the lodges during my visit and they just look perfect for a weekend (or midweek) once in a lifetime adventure and it has been added to my bucket list alongside the photography day. The best part is that the money that you spend on these experiences go straight back to looking after these fantastic beasts!
Alongside these experiences on between the dates of 21st-24th July, WHF will be exclusively opening their doors for their annual open days giving you a rare opportunity in to the grounds to see the amazing work that is taking place. Tickets are limited and sell out extremely quickly, so if you would like to visit please do not hesitate! I will certainly be attending.
Tickets can be purchased from the link below as well as further information about WHF and their beautiful cats –
Thank you so much to WHF for letting me spend the morning with you and for introducing me to all the majestic cats you share your time with, I cannot wait to come back again.
What experience would you like to do at WHF Big Cat Sanctuary?