Meet Our Team
My name is Riaan, I am Riana's nephew and have loved visiting and helping at the project for many years.
Now I am really excited to be more involved, to learn how to care for the animals, and begin to help manage the farm to give Riana some time off.
It's great to be a part of such an amazing project, I can't wait for the future!
Riana Van Nieuwenhuizen
Founder and Director of Cheetah Experience
Riana is the founder of Cheetah Experience Bloemfontein and; co-founder of Cheetah Experience Ashia and member of the board of directors. She is one of the leading “Cheetah Ladies” in South Africa and her passion is to educate people about these endangered animals.
Riana is committed to ensure that the South African cheetah populations chances of survival are strongly improved through strengthening blood lines and is pushing for DNA testing and the establishment of a stud book in the country to make breeding ethical.
Encouraged by the success and public response towards her project in Bloemfontein Riana realised her dream of procuring a safe haven near Cape Town for her hand raised ambassador cheetahs and animals in need alike.
Cheetah Experience Bloemfontein was founded with the intention of assisting in the prevention of the further decline of cheetah populations. For this reason it’s mission is to ethically breed cheetahs, in unison with other cheetah conservation projects, in an attempt to ensure viable genetic diversity.
The future aspiration is to purchase an area of land in order to release cheetahs back into a ‘protected wild’, where they will be interfered with as little as possible by humans, yet will still be monitored closely by vets and researchers. This will allow us to gain a better insight into the lives of these magnificent creatures.
My name is Claire, or Poofy as most people know me. I always remember growing up loving any TV show, movie, or book that depicted Africa. I dreamed that one day I would be able to go and see Africa for myself. In early 2011, I saw a photo of Riana laying on her bed with 2 cheetahs. I was amazed!! I messaged her to tell her that she was living an incredible life, something I can only dream of. Well, Riana responded that she had a volunteer project, sent me the link, and told me that it didn’t just have to be a dream.
In August that year, I took a leap, jumped on a plane and went to Cheetah Experience to volunteer for 1 month and found on my return to Scotland that all I could do was think of how and when I could go back. In 2012 I returned as a volunteer for 6 months. Trying to settle back into normal life after so many months of feeding, caring for and loving the animals was an impossible task.
In 2013 I again made the trip to South Africa, with the intention of staying only 3 months... However, it is now 2017, I am still at Cheetah Experience, but now instead of being a volunteer, I am a staff member, who suddenly found herself in charge of lionside after 1 year of hard work and dedication.
It is now my responsibility to ensure the health and care of all the animals at Cheetah Experience (Except the cheetahs, meerkats and dogs). As well as feeding and cleaning enclosures, it is my responsibility to record health issues, administer medication, adjust the animals diets, implement enrichment, and create the best living environments I can for the animals in my care.
If you were to ask me who my favourite animal was, you would get numerous answers. Each individual has a unique personality, quirky trait and so with that I have a different bond with each. Jasper the serval has a special place in my heart, he rules over me I would say. What he wants he pretty much gets, but there is so much to love about each and every one of the animals here.
Fondest memory at Cheetah Experience: Bringing Fiona and Shrek home finally, being with Allegra and Angie when they gave birth, Napoleon coming when I call, moments with friends, improving the leopard camps. And these are all in the last little while!
Animal Carer, Volunteer Coordinator and Marketing Coordinator
I am responsible for helping out in the daily care of the cheetahs and monitoring the general health and behaviour of all the animals. I also help manage the volunteer accommodation and coordinate the volunteers that come to Cheetah Experience, and manage the marketing of Cheetah Experience.
In 2015 I arrived at Cheetah Experience for the first time and absolutely fell in love with this place. I never thought I would find a place where the animals are loved and cared for like they are over here. I went back home but couldn’t stop thinking about how much I wanted to be at Cheetah Experience. So eventually I decided to take a leap of faith, I asked Riana for a job and quit my job at home.
Since I arrived here, I haven’t regretted my decision once. This place is my home and I enjoy every day I’m able to work here. Getting up and being excited about going to work every day is something a lot of people can only dream of. Working with these animals is such a privilege and I consider myself so lucky to be here.
Fondest memory at Cheetah Experience: When Legacy arrived and was very scared of everything but eventually decided she could trust me and came up to me to comfort her.
I am a vet nurse from New Zealand. I graduated in 2005 and have worked in NZ ever since. I first came to Cheetah Experience as an intern in 2018 and loved it so much that I came back in 2019 as the clinic vet nurse. I have a passion for wildlife and vet nursing so vet nursing here is the best of both worlds!
My favourite animal is Fiona because she is feisty but has a softer side when you get to know her.
Researcher and animal carer
Hi, I’m Luci. I have been working with animals/animal science sector for about 13 years now, i have always been passionate about animals and knew it was what I wanted to do. I completed my bachelor’s degree in environmental science and biology and am now studying my master’s online in Molecular Medicine. I first came to Cheetah Experience in February 2019 of which I instantly fell in love with the project and fell in love with the passion I saw in Riana, that made the project what it is today. I am thankful every day to have the opportunity to work at such an incredible place and be a part of the project.
Curio shop manager
I had a job. Actually I had more than one to keep myself afloat in a life that made it hard for me to survive in a real hectic world where a university degree means more than a lot of experience, where being a 50 something woman is a burden for most companies, where people feel threatened if they suspect you know more about certain things then they do, so basically they won’t hire you and just say you are overqualified for the job. It makes no sense. It made me think... what makes me happy? What makes me actually feel alive and what about doing something that makes a difference? What makes me tick? I decided to leave it all. Left my rented apartment, quit my job, applied for a long-time volunteer visa in South Africa and hopped on a plane!…”
And here I am today, as a volunteer staff member at Cheetah Experience. You will find me in the curio shop and wherever needed.
Do I have a favourite animal here? Not really… each animal has its own personality, I have a different bond with each of them. From meerkat to lion, from cheetah to serval… they are all special and beautiful in their own way.