Lion Nikola at FELIDA

#BehindTheScenes at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary

Afien Groenhof-Westra is an animal caretaker at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary and gives us an exclusive look behind the scenes 


FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in the Netherlands is specialised in taking care of rescued and traumatised big cats. Since June 2017 Afien Groenhof-Westra is an animal caretaker at FELIDA and part of FOUR PAWS. Before that, Afien was doing volunteer work at the sanctuary.

In this interview, Afien will tell us more about the behind the scenes in the sanctuary!

Can you describe an average day at work?

In the morning we start with a safety check on the terrain. Then we clean one outside enclosure every day, which rotates every day. We have divided the enclosures into zones so that we know which zone has to be cleaned that day. After we have cleared up the outside enclosures, we add some enrichment for the animals. Then we let the animals out (and of course watch them enjoy the enrichment). Part of my daily work is also to prepare and give medication to the animals and check on them in an observation round later in the day. Next to the outdoor areas, we have to take care of the inside enclosures and prepare the food for that day. After that, there is time for animal training, maintenance work, enrichment making or additional cleaning. Around 4:30 it is time for the medication round and then it is feeding time. We end the day with another safety check on the terrain where we make sure that everything is locked and closed properly for the night.

What is one of your favourite things about working in the sanctuary? 

I enjoy the training part a lot. We do many types of training with the animals such as trust-building, vaccination and crate training. Also, it's nice to see how they react to the different enrichments.

What is the most unusual experience you've had working at the sanctuary?

Taking care of the two lion cubs Terez and Masoud was unusual but very special to experience as they were so little and unwell when they arrived.

What has been one of the most gratifying or memorable parts of your job?

I will never forget the day Bobby, Lenci and Zhaku arrived at FELIDA. To be involved with their special care and to do the first trust-building training was very special.

What is one of the most challenging aspects of working with animals/working with the sanctuary?

To notice if an animal has small changes in its behaviour because predators do not easily show weakness.

How many animals live at the sanctuary? 

At the moment (June 2022) we have ten animals: a tiger and nine lions.

Do you have a favourite animal at the sanctuary? If so, why?

I don’t have one favourite animal because they all have such a different characters and every animal has something that I like. All the animals are my favourite!

How has your work at the sanctuary changed your life and impacted your family/friends/community? 

I am more aware of animal welfare all around the world. And by telling the background stories of the FELIDA animals, my environment also learns more about the bad situations around the world.

What's one thing that makes your job feel special?

Getting to know all the animals that are at FELIDA and improving their lives. And to witness that they are enjoying their new home.

What did you do before you joined FOUR PAWS?

I studied to be an animal caretaker and worked in an animal park.

What do you like to do outside of work? What do you feel passionate about?

I don't have one specific hobby. I like to do many things like photography but I also enjoy simply being outside. I am currently building a farmhouse together with my husband. We are doing most of the work by ourselves so most of my free time is covered by that.

Tiger Tsezar at FELIDA

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