Photo by Zocha_K/Getty Images

As we bounced around in the van, down a dirt road with rainwater-filled ruts, we were excited about the big cats we were going to see. My family and I were vacationing on the east coast of South Africa and arranged a week of safaris. This was an excursion from our lodge, Zulu Nyala in Hluhluwe, to a cat rehab center an hour away.

Unlike many zoos and parks that breed big cats for profit in the U.S., this facility’s sole purpose is to care for sick or injured animals. Some of the cats will eventually be released back into the wild, and others will spend the remainder of their lives here. I visited with my wife,