Many of the visitors to the Cheetah Experience in Bloemfontein have never seen a cheetah, lion or leopard before. Many are so moved by the experience of being up close with the animals at this sanctuary for big cats that they become cheetah volunteers.

Did you know?

Big cats raised in captivity may reject their cubs. Several rejected cubs are being cared for at the Cheetah Experience.

The founder of the Cheetah Experience in Bloemfontein, Riana van Nieuwenhuizen, always dreamed of establishing a sanctuary for cheetahs to help save these beautiful animals from extinction.

She took the leap in 2006 when she left her full-time job with the Department of Justice and founded this non-profit initiative, bringing big cats to Bloemfontein. Today the sanctuary has several cheetahs, lions, leopards, caracals, servals and even wolves. It also has several cubs that melt all visitors’ hearts.

The animals at this sanctuary were born in captivity and it is Riana’s dream to see them roam free 1 day in a far larger reserve. For now they live safely and comfortably at the 10-hectare sanctuary where she also has a research and cheetah breeding project and where the animals serve as educational ambassadors for wildlife conservation.

Such is the interest in the Cheetah Experience, that people from all over the world become cheetah volunteers at the sanctuary. They stay for 3 weeks to 3 months, paying for their board and lodging, which helps to cover the food and veterinary costs of the animals. The sanctuary is open 7 days a week and the 1-hour tours are limited to 10 people per group.

Larger groups are accommodated and split into groups of 10, so as not to overwhelm the animals. 'Adults and children alike are deeply moved by the experience of interacting with the big cats. Many of them find it healing and so emotional that they start crying. When they cry, we cry with them,' says Van Nieuwenhuizen, who says the animals have turned around her life.

‘Before I started the centre I was on anti-depressants,’ she explains. ‘I no longer take any medication and I am so strong and healthy today that I don’t even get colds. My joy is when others find being here equally healing.’

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Riana van Nieuwenhuizen
Tel: +27 (0)72 905 3457

How to get here

Either fly into Bloemfontein from any of South Africa's major cities and hire a car, or drive to Bloemfontein, which is 370km from Johannesburg. From the N1 take the Nelson Mandela off ramp, drive on the R64 for 5km, then follow the Cheetah Experience signboards.

Best time to visit

All year round.

Around the area

Bloemfontein is a large city with plenty of attractions, from art galleries to live entertainment and wildlife. Consult the Bloemfontein website for more information.

What will it cost

Visitor's entrance fees for the one-hour tour are R100 for adults and R50 for children under 12. Only one tour is offered at 10am on Saturdays and Sunday; four tours are offered each day during the week (they are closed on Mondays). Volunteers pay R3200 per week for board and lodging.

What to pack

Camera, casual clothes.

Where to stay

Bloemfontein has a choice of hotels, B&Bs, and guest houses. Cheetah volunteers stay at the sanctuary.