The Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) is living proof that people can make a difference to the long-term survival of the planet and its animal inhabitants.
HESC focuses on the conservation of rare, vulnerable and endangered animal species. Cheetah Conservation is one of its core disciplines.
The centre is actively involved in research; breeding of endangered animal species; the education of learners, students and the general public in conservation and conservation-related activities; tourism; the release and establishment of captive-bred cheetahs in the wild; the treatment and rehabilitation of wild animals in need (including poached rhinos); and anti-poaching initiatives on the reserve.
“These days you hear of so many conservation centres, wildlife rehabilitation centres, reserves and parks, which surely is a good thing, however, every now and again one such place makes its way into the media about being far less ethical than originally thought. Now there comes the problem of differentiating between the ethically practising operations and the un-ethical ones, or worse yet the primary focused money-making ones.
You may have heard of canned lion hunting, unnecessary breeding programs, cross-breeding or glorified zoos, and then you have the actual city zoos and circuses. Of the latter how many of them do you actually hear are doing a good job rather than manipulating animals for pure profit making. There have even been stories of volunteer conservation programmes manufacturing a product centred around lion breeding solely for international volunteers to play with lion cubs and feel that they are saving an endangered species. Without going into too much detail of the negative stories there are of course so many doing the right thing or simply going about it in the right way, the ethical way.
Enter the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, one of the front-runners in cheetah research in South Africa and now one of the most famous and successful centres of its kind in Southern Africa. We were fortunate enough to visit HESC for a few hours and got a detailed introduction into what they do and how they do it. Gretha, Amy and Lesia, three dedicated HESC employees, met with us to explain that rehabilitation, education, awareness and release were their core project principles and that it is important that the animals come first not the tourists visiting the centre. Finding that balance between conservation and tourism is one not easily done and many organisations can lean more towards the tourism side once they see the revenue benefits, however, HESC said that although the income brought in by visitors is vital to the centre, it will never turn the project into a zoo format.
While sitting in one of the one hectare big enclosures with Savannah the Serval, they told us that if any of the animals don’t want to be seen they won’t and if they are interested in what is happening they will make themselves visible, but ultimately it is the animals choice. Inhabitants of the centre will always be treated with care and respect and the fact that they are still wild animals, no matter how habituated, will never escape the minds of the employees and be educated to the visitors.
Although many of the animals will not be able to be released into the wild due to their habituation and previous life before the centre, some of them will, in fact, see full freedom during their lives – the ultimate goal, but if not they will be able to live out their lives in a stress free environment, often one far less stressful than the wild, meaning that some animals will live twice as long.
After a fantastic tour of the centre, informative DVD, and great chat with the staff it was time to leave but not without taking in all that we were shown. The HESC will definitely be added onto our list of stop-offs for The EXPEDITION Project and a centre that we will be following with growing interest.”