Opinions on Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center

By Ellie Oravecz

On the 13th of June, we visited Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center which works on the conservation of species such as Cheetahs, Wild Dogs, Rhinoceroses and Southern Ground Hornbills. When visiting any conservation facility, I am extremely skeptical of their practices until I am able to experience them first hand. Once we arrived, we waited for our guide and then were directed into a small theatre to watch a short introduction about their facility. I personally found their small video quite trite because their footage mainly showed the animals in the facility and showed minimal footage of the rehabilitation and releasing processes. After the video, we were escorted to a large game drive vehicle which held our entire group plus a few other families. Within their facility we viewed cheetahs, zebras, vultures, lions, rhinoceroses and wild dogs. Throughout the tour, we were allowed to ask our guide questions about the animals and their program. In my opinion, the guide was informative, but seemed reluctant to answer specific questions relating to the location and process of releasing rehabilitated animals. Additionally, the guide did not seem informed on events occurring outside of their facility, for example, animals in Kruger National Park.

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            Overall, I have mixed opinions on Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center. Firstly, the facility originally only rehabilitated cheetahs and this continues to be the main focus of the program. However, cheetahs as very vulnerable animals and in order to be successful in the wild, they need to be rehabilitated without the reliance on humans. Cheetahs are considered endangered due to lions hunting and killing them in the wild. Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center states that they raise the cheetah cubs separated from all other cheetahs and then eventually place them into an area where they socialize and grow up. Once they have matured, they are placed in “lovers lane” where the cheetahs mate. Once a pair of cheetahs have reproduced successfully, they are supposedly released into the wild. I believe that this process has both positive and negative impacts on the cheetahs. Positively, the cheetah population is starting to increase (in captivity) and the facility states that they are releasing these cheetahs back into the wild in non-disclosed areas. Negatively, as stated before, cheetahs are incredibly vulnerable and the process of trying to return a wild animal back to its original habitat is extremely difficult and mostly unsuccessful.

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Furthermore, the facility’s Wild Dog rehabilitation program showed structure as it is built on the animals’ behavioral patterns. Wild Dogs live in packs and rely on each individual within the pack. At that moment, Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center had a total of four Wild Dogs, three males and one female. The facility stated that they are waiting until they receive more Wild Dogs in order to release them back into the wild. The main reason for this decision is because there are not enough members to make up a successful pack. If they were released as a pack of four, the pack would disintegrate and each individual would not survive. However, in general, Wild Dogs are hard to rehabilitate which is demonstrated in their declining population numbers.

            Overall, I appreciate the purpose of the facility and believe that they are trying their best to form a program which supports animal conservation. However, as stated before, rehabilitating animals is an extremely difficult task and the outcomes will not always be positive.

Natalie Miller