Wildlife conservation at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre | Jumbari Family Safaris
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Wildlife conservation at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre

Rescued rhinos at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center, photo credit | Heinrich van den Berg


Since its establishment in 1990, the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre has become a key player in wildlife conservation and environmental education in South Africa. The centre is actively involved in the conservation of rare and vulnerable species. The centre is actively involved in focused research, breeding programmes as well as anti-poaching initiatives and prides itself  in educating learners, students and the general public in conservation and the role of predators, in sustaining ecosystems. 

As one of our conservation partners, Jumbari Family Safaris contributes 1% of each booking value to the Centre. We recently caught up with Ilse Schurmann, marketing and communications manager at HESC to find out more about the centre and how it is making a difference to wildlife conservation in South Africa.



Founder Lente Roode and a cheetah at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center, photo credit | Heinrich van den Berg

01. When and how did the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre start?

 HESC was started some 30 years ago when Lente Roode and her husband purchased 35 cheetahs from Des Varaday who wanted to close down his cheetah breeding operation. At the time, all Lente really wanted was two or three for her own pleasure. She agreed to take all 35 cheetahs and that was how the Hoedspruit Cheetah Project started.

 While our name later changed to Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre when species other than cheetahs were brought to us, our main focus has always remained on the breeding and conservation of cheetahs in captivity.


Rescued rhino Esmé and her companion Mielie, photo credit | Heinrich van den Berg

02. Where do the animals generally come from and what are the criteria they need to meet before being taken into the Centre?

Because of the facilities and expertise available at HESC, many injured or orphaned animals confiscated or found by environmental conservation authorities, animal welfare organisations or individuals are brought to HESC where they are treated and rehabilitated to be released back into the wild. 

Over the years we received many cheetahs classified as so-called ‘problem animals’ that were caught by farmers throughout South Africa because they had (or were suspected of having) killed livestock. These cheetahs and those that were born as result of our breeding programme now amount to 90.

The alarming escalation in rhino poaching in South Africa (and worldwide), has resulted in HESC increasingly being requested to provide sanctuary to injured and orphaned rhinos in need of treatment and rehabilitation.


Rescued elephant and a caretaker, photo credit | Jabulani Safaris

03. Can you tell us a bit more about the team behind the HESC Centre?

 There are many staff members who make up the team and each is important to the smooth running of the centre. Our animal curators are responsible for looking after all the animals in our care and this entails feeding them, cleaning out their enclosures and tending to them in the animal hospital on the premises if they are sick. If the sickness is serious and cannot be treated at HESC by the staff, a wildlife veterinarian is called to help. The curators also ensure that the animals get the exercise that they require to remain healthy and well that they have the opportunity to interact with each other.

 Feeding the animals, does not just mean providing food once a day. Many of the young or new-born animals that we have had over the years have required feeding every three hours, as young human babies do.



Members of the anti-poaching team at HESC, photo credit | Heinrich van den Berg

04. How do you educate those who visit the centre?

As part of its social responsibility programme, HESC endeavours to educate learners of the local community, and further afield, about conservation and involve them in HESC activities.  Informative and interesting tours are offered daily on the endangered species at the Centre and are preceded by a video that also provides fascinating information. 

The HESC Scholar programme is designed to involve learners to “Ensure our Tomorrow” by offering them the opportunity to learn about nature and conservation while having fun. The programme includes a two-night/three-day experience at HESC during which children (10 to 12 years old) are given the opportunity to learn about the importance of wildlife conservation and how they can make a difference. They learn about HESC’s various wildlife conservation projects and take that to their communities. HESC aims to equip every child to be a conservationist with the necessary skills to be a respected leader.


Mielie, Esmé and David out on their daily walk, photo credit | Heinrich van den Berg

05. How can people get involved and make a lasting difference at the HESC?

As a non-profit organisation, HESC relies on donations to conduct the conservation work that it does. Money that is donated by supporters is allocated for the specific purpose that the supporter intended or specified or for the general upkeep of the animals. Support can be extended by adopting a cheetah, fostering an animal at the Centre or donating money here

Visit the Centre on our 10 day South Africa and Victoria Falls Conservation Safari.