We went in June 2011 and joined the cheetah run and three-hour tour, which we thought was fun, interesting and quite informative.
Our guide, Amos, seemed passionate about his work in the centre, educating the public about the cheetahs’ and other animals’ struggles for survival in Africa.
The Animals all seemed well cared for, happy, healthy and energetic (could have been because it was winter and cooler outside). We particularly liked the cheetah run demonstrations. Seeing them sprint in front of you is just very special. Its so difficult to keep up with them with your video and/or camera so we advise you just to watch them the first time so you can get a real feel for their speed.
The free-range cheetah and wild dog areas almost had the feel of a real game safari, offering a simulation of how wild dogs hunt animals and yelp to communicate as they chased our jeep. This was unforgettable. Watching Amos feed the cheetahs and walk freely with them, but showing them respect as wild animals, was also very interesting.
The fee was not cheap - the cheetah run and morning tour was Rs345 per person and a picture with the cheetah was an additional Rs180. Hopefully, these large sums go to conservation and the proper upkeep of the center as this was a lot of money compared to other cheetah conservation centres we have visited in the past.
What we didn’t care for so much was the staged cheetah photo experience. This was understandably something they would be doing because so many people want to pet a live cheetah and this can serve as a quick, big money-maker, Rs180 for a few minutes stroking a tame cheetah’s back while its handler kept it lying on the table. We partly didn’t like this, as it seemed unnatural for the animal and almost exploitative. At least, the cheetah handler was very good and treated the animal with respect, it seemed unbothered by the requirement of having to rest on the table, unharmed and unaffected by the experience.
We also didn’t care for the large amounts of waiting time that we experienced due to the large groups they run through this popular centre. There were 25-30 visitors in our morning group, which meant that a majority of the first hour was spent just waiting for people to finish paying and taking their photo with the ambassador cheetah. Considering how much we paid, waiting around like this was a bit annoying. We also were unable to visit the honey-badgers which we really wanted to see, Amos told us this was because we wouldn’t have enough time, too large a group. That was too bad.
Overall, we enjoyed our visit at the Ann van Dyke Centre and felt their efforts at cheetah and other animal conservation were quite good, at least on the surface and from what we could tell. It was clear that some elements of commercialism have kept into their operation, as evidenced by the large fees, large groups and the unnatural cheetah photo service. We would probably visit again if we had extra time during a trip to J’burg or the eastern part of South Africa.
We do recommend a visit to the Ann Van Dyke centre based on our generally good experience there and for the opportunity to spend some time with the remarkable cheetahs, wild dogs and other threatened and endangered animals. Just be prepared for some waiting around/dead time and an awkward pitch for you to buy the expensive photo with a reclining cheetah.
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