Ann van Dyk, pioneer of cheetah conservation passes away

The legendary Ann van Dyk, founder of the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre, who is internationally regarded as having saved the cheetah from extinction in South Africa, passed away at the age of 90  on Thursday.

This remarkable woman, who has dedicated her life to saving the cheetah, had still been at the helm of the cheetah centre until four years ago, after which she handed over the reins to her nephew, Eric van Dyk.

Her passion and dedication to these animals were unrivalled and she was a force to be reckoned with in the conservation world.

‘Ann founded the centre in 1971 on her family farm in De Wildt after she and her brother, Godfrey, rescued two cheetah cubs in the late 1960s from a farm in the then Northern Transvaal. However, without the necessary permits, they had to send to cubs to the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa in Pretoria.

At the time, the Zoo was establishing a captive breeding programme, but further expansion was limited due to the lack of land available and Ann offered the use of their farm for the programme. The cheetah centre was born.

The Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre has received international recognition for bringing the cheetah back from the edge of extinction and it was largely due to their efforts that the cheetah was removed from the endangered species list in 1986.

Over the years various other endangered species have been bred at the Centre and these include African wild cat, Suni, Blue and Red Duiker, Riverine Rabbit and vultures, including the very rare Egyptian Vulture. The small antelope and Riverine rabbit projects were handed over to other institutions such as the Karoo and the Kruger National Parks, once successfully underway.

Ann received a gold medal award from the South African Nature Foundation for her contribution in 1988. More than 80 research publications have been written and undertaken through the facility and this research contributes to the well-being and survival of the species. Her outreach education programme has reached over 100 000 learners.

Ann also introduced the Wild Cheetah Management Programme that successfully captured wild cheetahs that were considered “problem animals’ and relocated them into protected areas.

The  Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre celebrates its 50th birthday this year and it will continue to be a testimony to her extraordinary conservation work.

“She was a remarkable woman who lived her life doing what she loved. She inspired us all and everyone she came in contact with. We will miss her dearly, but the centre will always be the symbol of her love and dedication to our wonderful animals,” said Petro van Eeden, manager of the centre.