South Africa: Cheetahs being used in weddings

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By Melanie Peters & Nicky Willemse
December 16 2006 at 12:50PM

A feline ring bearer, a bird of prey swooping in over the heads of guests to deliver the wedding rings and a bridal couple arriving at the ceremony on the back of an elephant.

These are just a few of the ways adventurous couples are choosing to tie the knot in South Africa.

It will take a lot to beat the New Zealand couple who plan to get married on an iceberg drifting off that country’s east coast – flying there by helicopter – but with South Africa now one of the favourite international wedding destinations, more and more people are opting for quirky and off-beat ways to make a statement on their wedding day.

One favourite is to incorporate cheetahs from the Cheetah Outreach project at Spier outside Stellenbosch. Not only do the wedding couple pose with the sleek cats in their wedding photos, but they also include them in the ceremony.

The programme’s manager, Liesel Smith, told of a recent wedding when, unbeknown to the groom, it was arranged for a cheetah to stroll up the aisle carrying the wedding rings.

“The groom got such a fright when he turned to get the rings, but Joseph (the cheetah) is very easy going and did not react at all.”

Another wedding favourite is for couples to hire Rags, a Harris’s hawk belonging to Eagle Encounters, to deliver the wedding rings to couples at the altar.

Tracy Chalmers, one of the owners of Eagle Encounters, said she and Rags usually sit on a balcony in the church – and when the time comes to exchange rings the best man puts on a protective glove and entices the bird with a piece of fresh meat.

“Rags whisks down over the unsuspecting guests, lands on the best man’s arm and, while she enjoys her treat, he undoes the ribbon and releases the rings. We like to call her our jewel thief.”

Aleit Swanepoel, of Aleit Wedding Co-ordination, said |he had been involved in |some interesting and lavish weddings.

One (white) couple from Britain decided to include the African custom of lobola into their wedding, he said.

“The groom requested that we find a cow for the occasion, which he then presented to his father in-law at the ceremony in the gardens of a posh Constantia wine estate.

“The cow ran amok and we had to prevent a few near accidents before it was returned to its farm.”

And then there was the Belgian couple who threw a three-day event – starting with a braai and booze party to welcome the guests, followed by the actual wedding the next day and a picnic the next.

There are also the hardcore party animals who can never get enough and follow their wedding reception with an after-party following the reception. At one wedding there was a snake show laid on to entertain the children of guests.

Anna Carstens, from Weddings in Africa, said that getting married on top of Table Mountain was very popular, as many people believe it “has a positive energy”.

One of the most offbeat weddings she organised had a circus theme, she said.

“It took place in a tent, the ushers were clowns and the bridesmaids were four baby elephants.”

Dr Deric Derbyshire, from St Peter’s Congregational Church in Charlo in Port Elizabeth, said he had married couples on the city’s Shark Rock Pier, in chokka – squid – trawlers, on cruise ships and yachts and even in a wrestling ring. He also received many requests from overseas visitors wanting to get married in game reserves.

Noreen Swartz of Timeless Weddings Company said overseas couples also liked to get married in one of KwaZulu-Natal’s many authentic Zulu villages, with a chief and |maidens and warriors in |attendance.

Magru Muller, from Garden Route wedding co-ordinators Wedding Wizz, said she had organised countless beach weddings.

“We set up tents on the beach, and all the catering and dancing takes place on the beach. My most adventurous couple requested a private sunrise beach wedding and we had to start setting up at 3am,” she said. “I’ve had brides arrive by boat, on horseback and by |helicopter and have also organised weddings on ferries and sailboats.”

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