HeidiRobertsAwardsSimonAllen and Heidi Roberts with Simon Mnisi

A holiday can sometimes have unexpected consequences and in the case of the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC), one such holiday had an enormous and far-reaching impact for which we are immensely grateful!

It all started some 12 years ago when we had the pleasure of meeting a dynamic New York couple, Allen and Heidi Roberts.  Whilst staying at Camp Jabulani the couple also visited HESC, where they fell in love with the cheetahs and were impressed by our work. Upon their return to New York they were determined to do what they could to support our founder, Lente Roode, with her conservation initiatives.

Allen and Heidi embarked on fundraising projects and two years later founded a non-profit organisation, the U.S. Friends of Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, whose aim it is to support programmes for breeding, care and research for individual animals and entire species as well as for outreach to schools and community organisations.

Philanthropy and giving time to charitable causes are a given for this extraordinary couple and over the years they have proactively and passionately donated and raised a staggering amount for HESC.

In addition to their personal donations, Allen and Heidi annually host around 14 dinner parties at their Park Avenue home over a three-week period to raise funds for U.S. Friends of HESC. Amazingly Heidi cooks all the meals for these dinner parties – that is 24 meals per event!

Allen and Heidi also auction off sponsored holidays at five-star lodges, meals at acclaimed New York restaurants, designer apparel and products – all in aid of U.S. Friends of HESC. Lente Roode also attends to share updates and respond to questions about HESC’s activities.

Hlokomela-Clinic-explanations-10-March-2015Heidi Roberts with a nurse at Hlokomela Clinic

During the past almost 11 years, the funds generated by U.S. Friends have been used in aid of a number of projects, including critically needed cheetah enclosures, exercise equipment and to manage the breeding of cheetahs (including the rare king cheetah) and to save poached and orphaned rhinos.

There is an interesting story about how the lure used for exercising cheetah, came about. The Roberts’ observed the training of greyhounds and realised that the lure being used would also be perfect for exercising cheetah. A lure was bought and brought (in Heidi’s hand luggage) to South Africa for testing. Stroke of genius and very much appreciated by the delighted cheetahs at HESC! Thanks to Heidi, visitors can now see a stunning display of acceleration by cheetahs in pursuit of a decoy on a lure during one of the morning tours.

Funding from U.S. Friends has also made the cheetah island possible – visitors now cross to a secure moated island to observe mature cheetahs interacting in the surrounding grass and bush garden.

As a sign of our gratitude for the amazing contribution made by the Roberts’, Lente Roode named a cheetah cub after Heidi just in time for her birthday one year. In 2015, during one of the Roberts’ regular visits to HESC, Heidi, got to spend quality time to celebrate two birthdays – her own, and cheetah Heidi’s 2nd birthday.

But U.S. Friends’ commitment is to more than just the animals. The Roberts’ are passionate about community outreach initiatives and actively support opportunities to help educate learners about conservation issues.

HESC_HEIDI at Lumukisa_2016Heidi Roberts at Lumukisa Primary School

HESC partners with underprivileged schools in the local area and one such school is Lumukisa Primary School, located in Acornhoek, Mpumalanga, South Africa. The Roberts’ got to experience first hand the enthusiasm, inquisitiveness and gratitude of young students at this school as they spoke eagerly about their exposure to HESC and its programs. Says Heidi: “These children will be the future custodians of our planet and, regardless of age, should know that they can play an immense part in conservation efforts. Whether it would be reusing that little piece of scrap paper lying around, a quick trip to the local recycling centre, or choosing to walk or ride a bike rather than take a vehicle, every little bit helps and all efforts are greatly valued…”

The U.S. Friends’ internship program is another project that further reinforces the link between the animals and the community, underscoring the merit of creating jobs at HESC that would provide employment opportunities and further the cause of conservation.


Simon Mnisi and the anti-poaching dogs

Funding has been provided for trainees to work at HESC since 2010. One of the success stories is Simon Mnisi who, thanks to the Roberts’, was put through a year’s internship at HESC in order to qualify for enrolment for his Fugasa ranger certification. He is now in charge of the Anti-Poaching dogs at HESC.

U.S. Friends also funded the costs of housing, meals and daily transportation of Global Health Fellow, Omara Afzal MD, who assisted in a program to integrate cervical cancer screening into the HIV services provided at the local Hlokomela Clinic.

We simply cannot survive without the help of organisations such as U.S. Friends of HESC, and especially not without passionate individuals like Allen and Heidi Roberts. We thank you and salute you.

Should you wish to get involved with U.S. Friends of HESC, contact Heidi Roberts:
Tel: 001 212 888 6710