Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre | iinfo TZANEEN

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.
Poaching is a painful reality and a growing concern to any nature and animal lover. The poaching of two hand-reared rhinos at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) in 1989 motivated the forming of the Endangered Species Protection Unit (ESPU).
ESPU activities included investigation and prevention of criminal behaviour like the exportation, buying and selling of endangered species or products thereof. However, the unit was disbanded in 2003 and integrated into the organised crime unit of the SA Police Services as part of a national restructuring initiative. This left South Africa without a law enforcement tool in environmental matters. In its short lifespan, the unit enjoyed several big breakthroughs.
HESC still works closely with law enforcement, supporting anti-poaching units on surrounding game farms. With educational programmes in schools and community work, the centre tries to prevent people from ever entering and participating in the cruel (but unfortunately hugely lucrative) practice of poaching. HESC and Kapama join forces to protect the species on the reserve after establishing its own Anti-Poaching Unit (APU). This unit is renowned in the greater Kruger area, and works with the police, the CIS in the Kruger National Park and several other anti-poaching units. The Kapama APU patrols in the high-risk areas of the reserve and conducts daily foot patrols looking for traps and poachers.
To assist their wilder counterparts, tracking dogs have been introduced as part of the anti-poaching initiative. Two male bloodhounds trained to track poachers traverse the Kapama Reserve, HESC and surrounding areas.
The detestable practice of poaching has become a honed skill. Heavily-armed poachers have access to the best technology (helicopters) and ample assistance when needed. Due to the economic pinch, sadly more and more people are getting involved in poaching. This calls for intensified training of game rangers to amply equip them for the daunting, but honourable, task of protecting the vulnerable victims of poaching.
The “Eyes on Rhinos” project of HESC involves a 24-strand 7,900volt electric fence, apart from the motion sensor beams and permanent guards. The Eyes on Rhinos campaign requires weapons and ammunition, bullet proof vests for APU dogs, a dog attack suite, a trained Belgium Malanois dog, GPS radios, tablets for anti-poaching to view cameras off site and computer screens.
Rescued Rhinos @ HESC
When the rhino-poaching epidemic hit South Africa in 2008, the extinction of the rhino became a chilling possibility. In response, HESC launched the Rescued Rhinos @ HESC project. This involves the rehabilitation of orphaned and injured rhinos (affect by poaching) and their reintroduction to the wild.
Victims to Victors
On 30 August 2013, three rhinos were found darted and de-horned by poachers. The bull had died, but miraculously the two cows had survived the brutal attack. Driven by greed to extract every last gram of rhino horn, poachers had brutally sliced deep into the rhinos’ snouts, exposing the animals’ sinus channels. This resulted in a life-threatening bacterial infection. Veterinary threesome, Drs Peter Rogers, Gerhard Steenkamp and Johan Marais, pulled them through. By determined innovation, biodegradable fibreglass nasal casts were developed and with constant monitoring and disinfection of the area, Lion’s Den and Dingle Dell have found restored health, happiness and safety at HESC.
On Monday 18 January 2016, two female rhinos were poached on a neighbouring reserve. The older cow died due to mortal injuries inflicted on her. Tragically, she was pregnant and died along with her unborn foetus. Her other calf of two and a half years survived with serious injuries, after having her horn hacked off with a chainsaw. Philippa had to undergo several treatments to clean and close her wound.
Ike was discovered by an anti-poaching unit in the Pilanesberg National Park in July 2015, with both horns hacked off. Apart from his horn bed being severely damaged, he had also been slashed acroos the back with a panga. He was immediately placed in the custody of Saving The Survivors (STS) as he would not have survived the onslaught of other rhino bulls in the wild. Estimated at four years of age, he was named Ikanyega (Setswana for ‘Trust’), or Ike for short. Ike was then moved to the established rhino sanctuary at HESC (Rescued Rhinos @ HESC), where he was kept with other rhinos. He arrived on 20 September 2016.
Orphans left to perish
On 7 May 2014, Gertjie, an orphaned rhino calf, was brought to the centre. He was found at the side of his dead and dehorned mother. Gertjie was inconsolable for a long time and the degree of trauma to this precious survivor shows the effect of the inhumane and utterly selfish nature of the rhino horn traders.
In November of that year, Matimba was found in a similar fashion. As he was so young and weighing only 60 kg, the centre provided around-the-clock care to ensure his survival. Pulling through earned him his name, which means ‘strength’ or ‘power’ in Shangaan. Gertjie and Matimba were introduced and bonded for life. Who knows how they comforted each other when nightmares of that fateful day in their tender youth haunted one or the other?....
On 10 November 2015, Stompie arrived at the centre via helicopter from a reserve in the area. The mother of the 7-month-old calf had died at the cruel hands of poachers. Without her fierce maternal  protection, the exposed calf was fair game for the cowardly poachers who managed to cut off his tail and maul him. Stompie made it through after reconstructive surgery.
Balu, another orphaned rhino, arrived a few days later. He was only two weeks old, scrawny and weighed barely 54 kg. He may have been trying to survive on his own for a few days after his mother’s death. Balu and Stompie became firm friends, bound by their similar traumas.
On 13 April 2016, another young rhino bull was brought to the centre. About two weeks old and weighing only 41 kg, he had been discovered by a field guide on a neighbouring property. The baby was being rejected by his mother when he tried to suckle. It is suspected that the mother’s milk may have dried up due to the extreme drought at the time. Nhlanhla would not have survived without human intervention. To cure his dejected, dehydrated and emaciated state, Nhlanhla received urgent tender loving care at HESC.
Eleven days later yet another traumatized orphan baby rhino found herself in the save haven of HESC. Her mother had been savagely mauled - her horn hacked off by poachers. Olivia, as she was named, had been found next to her mother’s lifeless carcass. She was estimated at between 2 and 3 months old and weighed 141 kg upon arrival.
A month later – the next arrival. A ranger on a game drive had spotted a rhino calf roaming alone, who was later eventually tracked down next to her mother’s carcass. A predator had possibly inflicted the bite wounds on the distressed calf’s back. She was called Khulula (Zulu for ‘rescued’ or ‘set free’).
On 12 February this year (2017) a young rhino, between 5 – 6 months old, was found next to her mother’s carcass. The mother had allegedly been shot three days before as gunshots had been heard by neighbours at that time. Rangers followed the single row of rhino calf tracks on the road which led them to the distraught calf beside his mother’s lifeless body.
Lula, as she was later named, ran away before Dr Peter Rogers from Pro-vet could dart her. It helps to have an eye in the sky and from a helicopter she was spotted and darted. Seven litres of fluid containing antibiotics, vitamins, cortisone and a long-lasting tranquilizer in a drip coaxed her back to life and she was transported to HESC where she was placed in quarantine.
Tragically, it appears that the number of injured and orphaned rhinos arriving at HESC isn’t diminishing, which prompted HESC to begin the costly process of expanding rhino enclosures and install essential security. Advanced and improved security systems ensure that the adopted rhino stay protected and safe in their HESC home.

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