The Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (hereafter referred to as HESC) is living proof that with a little bit of effort and a lot of love, a difference can be made, a situation can improve, a life or ten can be saved.
The centre started out as the Hoedspruit Cheetah Project (HCP), which has its own fascinating history: owner and beneficiary of the centre, Ms Lente Roode, inherited the 2000-hectare farm from her father, who had made a living there by farming sheep and cattle. However, the big cats in the area always posed a threat to livestock and caused a conflict of interest.
Ms Roode grew up learning to love the African bushveld and its inhabitants. She was six years old when she had to mother an orphaned cheetah cub whose natural mother had been shot by a neighbouring farmer. Her cheetah-child, Sebeka, can be seen as the reason for the existence of this exceptional animal sanctuary.
She and her husband, Johann, bought a farm bordering her father’s land. After his death, she inherited the family farm, bought adjoining farms and started out with a herd of Bonsmara cattle. The battle was on again between the cattle and the predators, but the pendulum swung in favour of the wild ones. Kapama Game Reserve (covering 12 500 ha of land) was born.
A cheetah-breeding project was first established on the reserve, offering protection to the then endangered species. The facility was tasked with the conservation and breeding of the species for possible release into the wild, as well as providing research opportunities to scientists in zoological and veterinary fields.
Mr Des Varaday, a well-known cheetah breeder, offered Ms roode custody of his 35 cheetahs (bred near Middelburg in Mpumalanga Province). With the help of the late Professor David Meltzer of the Onderstepoort Faculty of Veterinary Science (University of Pretoria) and Varaday himself, they planned, built and developed the Hoedspruit Cheetah Project (HCP) within a year.
In 1990 the centre’s doors were opened to the public. From the start, the tourism activities on offer have helped to generate the necessary funds to run the project, while educating the public on wildlife conservation.
More species were welcomed at the centre which caused the name change and shifted the attention focussed on cheetahs to other endangered and/or injured species. HCP became HESC.
African wild cats, ground hornbills and bald ibises were transferred from the Pretoria zoo to the centre. African wild dogs (captured as ‘problem animals’ by conservation authorities) were added. Blue crane chicks, abandoned after their land was cultivated, and orphaned Black-Footed kittens soon followed. Breeding programmes for many of these species were instituted at HESC.
It became clear that extensive veterinary support was needed and a veterinary clinic with an animal hospital (with recuperation and quarantine facilities) was established in 1995.
This non-profit organisation invests all funds made into nature conservation in order to help ensure the continued survival of all endangered animal species. Not only a safe haven for orphaned and sick animals but also an education centre where the public and our younger generation can learn about endangered species by observing them at close range.
The Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre works closely with advisory committees of the Pretoria Zoo and the University of Pretoria. Since the passing of Professor Meltzer, a specialist Advisory Committee has been appointed to assist HESC with the management of its many functions.

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