The first week of June is going to be an exciting week for Cheetah Outreach. They’ll be relocating from their current site at Spier wine farm to their new home, Heartland’s Paardevlei site in Somerset West.
I caught up with Dawn Glover, Education Officer at Cheetah Outreach, to chat to her about the move.
Why the move — and how long has it been in the pipeline?
“It’s been about two years since we were first notified that there was a potential facility for us to move to, to actually seeing fences going up on the new site. The reasoning behind the move was a combination of construction that was going to be happening on the road outside, as well as a new driveway for Spier which would’ve compromised our facility. Spier also has a very limited area available for their leisure activities, which they want to focus on again – we already have three of the ten hectares available to them, so sooner or later we were going to have to look at moving our facility.
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It took us a while to go about looking at places that would be suitable. A lot of people came in with offers and we did a lot of investigation and short-listing — and had extensive meetings and conversations with various people — until eventually it was decided that Paardevlei would become the future home of Cheetah Outreach.”
How do you think the new site will benefit the cheetahs?
“Well, as you can see it’s a beautiful area. It’s quiet, calm and the land is amazing. The soil is all sand based so we won’t have the mud and water logging that we get at Spier, where our running enclosure is clay based. It’s going to be much nicer for our cats in winter — they’ll be able to run on the sand, so they’ll have that stimulus a lot more often. There’s also a rehabilitated vlei full of different birds on the site, so that enrichment for our cats is huge.
The running enclosure on this site is going to be 142 metres in length, which is much bigger than the 80 metres that we currently have. This will mean that that we can actually take up the International Cheetah Challenge once again, which is a 100m sprint race. Our cheetahs once held the record for something like 10 years, so we’re hoping that we can soon regain the title!”
Do you think it’s a positive move for the eco-tourism business of Cheetah Outreach?
“The site’s got a lot of potential and we’re all very excited. It really is going to become a hub of activity. The great thing is that we’ll still be considered as part of the wine route, which is a huge thing for us. Having been situated in the heart of the wine route at Spier, we’ve always been part of a lot of wine route tours, so we’re glad that’s not going to change.
At Paardevlei, there are plans for the entire area to be developed. There’s a winery on site, Flagstone Wineries, and they’re hoping to have a wine tasting room close to our facility. There’s also a micro-brewery on site, Triggerfish, and they want to run tours from our site to their brewery to do beer tastings. They’re in the process of renovating some old packing sheds and they’re hoping to turn them into an indoor curio market.
There are three national monuments on the site. The lovely old house (a Sir Herbert Baker original, Quinon House) is a national monument that we’ve been given the use of for our headquarters. This we’re particularly excited about and we’ve got plans for an audio-visual room, shop, visitors centre and offices – and it overlooks the facility, which is a huge bonus for us. There’s also going to be a restaurant right next door to the house which will have a deli for lunches and picnics.
So it’s going to become a real venue, a place where people can do a range of different activities and actually spend time here. It’s not going to be just coming in for half-an-hour, touching the cat and leaving again…”
You clearly have good reason to be excited about the new site. How do you feel about leaving Spier?
“Spier has been the most amazing partnership for us. It’s been fifteen years of great support and great interaction. They gave us a start – without them Cheetah Outreach wouldn’t be where it is now. So we’re definitely sorry to be leaving Spier. In terms of the future and what we can do here, the rebuilding of the facility has given us the opportunity to make a much more compact, efficient flow of the facility for our guests, which is going to help us enormously to really tell our story*.”
Do you consider the move to be an opportunity for the number of animals at Cheetah Outreach to grow?
“No. We have a very focused delivery; we are here for the conservation of the cheetah. Although we’re involved in eco-tourism, the funds raised are raised for the purpose of cheetah conservation. Our motto is ‘See It. Sense It. Save it’ – and that will always be our core, we won’t go outside of that core. Every animal we have on site has a story to tell in the conservation of the cheetah. It’s all weaved into why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’re not looking to change that.”
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*Cheetah Outreach houses a number of smaller animals such as the jackal, caracal, serval, meerkat and bat-eared fox, each which form an integral part of their story of cheetah conservation as animals that are killed for their threat to farmers’ livestock – which is much the case with cheetahs.
The Cheetah Outreach project aims to create awareness of the plight of the cheetah, as well as having an extensive conservation and education delivery programme. At the turn of the century an estimated 100,000 cheetah lived in 44 countries throughout Africa and Asia. Today, there are just 7,500 cheetahs left (2008 census IUCN). South Africa is home to fewer than 1,000 of these majestic cats.
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