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Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre ensures the survival of SA’s Cheetahs

As part of THG’s on-going commitment to not only indigenous wildlife, but conservation and conservation issues in general, THG journo’s were thrilled to be invited to visit the world-renowned Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) near the Kruger Park recently to see first-hand the good work being done there.

Arriving at the centre after a pleasant drive (thanks to faultless directions), and fortunately before the real heat of the day got going, we decided to put away any pre-conceived ideas or information we may have had about the centre and simply immerse ourselves in the experience- just like any other visitor, or foreign tourist. We wanted to “see what they see”, just be tourists and let the incredibly dedicated and knowledgeable staff show us around. And it turned out to be a great idea.

After viewing a short and very interesting introductory video, and armed with our newly-acquired knowledge of HESC, we soon departed into the bush on board a open air game viewing vehicle piloted by our guide, Andre’ de Jager. It is always a pleasant experience being able to combine business with pleasure and tour was all that and more. We were introduced to the centre’s (hopefully, soon-to-be) breeding pair of very endangered ground hornbills, Gumpy & Skewy. After learning that these fascinating (and inquisitive) birds only breed, on average, once every three years – and then only produce two eggs – it was easy to understand exactly why they are so vulnerable. We then moved on the meet another of the centre’s many “refugees” – an ex-circus lion named Caesar. Caesar was unfortunately abused over a long period of time and is understandably leery of humans. But, at HESC, he now has plenty of space, sunshine and fresh air and lives the life of Riley in the company of his bosom companion, lioness Sarah. Apart from wayward lions, HESC is also home to a number of other vulnerable species such as elephant and rhino. In reality, no animal in need is ever turned away from the centre if it is in any way possible to take them in.

It was not long before we were introduced to the real reason that HESC first opened back in 1990 – to, in essence, save the cheetah from extinction before it was too late. Although HESC and its vital work survives solely on donations from the public and businesses, the centre has thrived since that time. Thankfully, people all over the country, and indeed the world, realised the importance of the centre and gave generously. In the years that followed, HESC has succeeded in breeding over 200 healthy cheetah cubs for re-introduction into the wild. The centre is currently home to approximately 65 adult cheetahs and carefully supervised care and breeding is slowly ensuring a rise in their numbers.
Among their number, the centre is also extremely fortunate in being home to a total of seven very rare King cheetahs. This beautiful sub-species is a result of recessive gene, with the only a 1 in 64 chance of occurring naturally. These rare animals do not generally have a good survival rate in the wild as their predominantly black colouration absorbs heat from sunlight very quickly and causes them to overheat rapidly when chasing prey. For this reason, the primary cause of death of King cheetahs in the wild is starvation. Another equally rare and endangered species in the care of HESC are a number of African wild dogs. This population is also growing slowly at the centre and staff are very proud of their successes in this particular field of conservation.

A short article such as this can, in no way, ever hope to do any real justice to the vital, long-term conservation work being carried out by sanctuaries such as the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. Some things just have to be experienced personally. So the next time you have a little spare time, support a good cause, go a little off the beaten track, go the extra mile and pay a visit to HESC – you will be very glad you did.  

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