About our founder – Riana’s Story
Riana Van Nieuwenhuizen: the founder and owner of the non-profit organisation Fiela Funds Cheetah Breeding Project trading as Cheetah Experience.
After working full-time for the Department of Justice for 22 years, she decided it wasn’t her dream, passion, or calling in life and she decided to take the biggest risk of her life: she resigned and used a loan to buy her first cheetah, Fiela. At this stage Riana had no clear plan as to what the way forward would be. She had nothing; it was just her and Fiela.
At the time she stayed in a town house with Fiela until she could relocate to a game farm where she worked all sorts of jobs. Every night she dreamt about having her own place where cheetahs were in abundance and where she could do her bit in saving these graceful creatures from extinction.
Riana realised she needed to dream big but start small. That’s exactly what she did. She arrived at the now Cheetah Experience with Fiela. No money, no food, no furniture, no fence, no garden and a house that was falling down. Fiela was her inspiration and Riana often went without food so that she could buy food for her cheetah.
She did what she knew best—she raised cubs to bring in an income. She had lots of animals who moved into her home. Eventually days turned to weeks and weeks into months and Riana had four cheetahs that were permanent residents at Cheetah Experience. She opened her doors to the public for daily tours. Riana has always been involved with hand-raising cubs. Her first encounter in doing so was for friends of the Zoo, where she earned a very good name for herself and more farmers, breeders and institutions trusted her with their cubs.
She now has ten permanent staff members/volunteers who live and work on the premises to ensure the smooth flowing of Cheetah Experience. She has a team of dedicated volunteers who bend over backwards to help with her dream. The breeding project for cheetahs, servals and leopards is now up and running—including the start-up of the International Volunteer Program, which started in 2011.