With over thirty years experience, Dr. Laurie Marker is a pioneer in cheetah conservation. On research trips to Namibia early in her career, she learned firsthand of the dire situation facing wild cheetahs. She knew someone had to do something, and she would be that person. In 1991 Laurie sold most of her possessions and relocated to Namibia to co-found and direct the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).
Laurie started her career at Wildlife Safari in Oregon and continued on as Director and Research Fellow at the NOAHS Center, National Zoo, Washington, D.C. In 1988 she developed the International Cheetah Studbook, a registry of captive cheetah worldwide, and is the International Studbook Keeper. In 1996 she became a Vice-Chair of the World Conservation Union's (IUCN) Species Survival Commission's (SSC) Cat Specialist Group. Her life is now devoted to stabilizing the wild cheetah population by effecting lasting change in community attitudes and practices.
While cheetahs were once found all over Africa and Asia, they are now endangered in most of their original ranges and extinct in others. Fewer than 12,000 cheetahs remain worldwide. Although cheetahs pose no threat to human life, they are often seen as a threat to livestock. Persecution by humans, loss of prey base and habitat, and competition with larger predators are the major threats to cheetah survival.
The largest population of cheetahs is in Namibia, a country that has experienced significant growth in independence and democracy. During the 1980s, there was a drastic decline of the cheetah population. The population was halved in a 10-year period, leaving fewer than 2,500 cheetahs in the wild. Since the beginning of the 1990s, when CCF began working with local farming communities, a gradual change has occurred. Over the last few years, the cheetah population in Namibia has stabilized. Farmers now have more tolerance for cheetahs and are calling CCF more frequently to help them avoid such conflict.
CCF is a leader in addressing predator-livestock conflicts and working with local farmers, schools, NGOs, and the government of Namibia to help increase understanding of and appreciation for this remarkable cat. With a focus on education and science, CCF continues to expand its model to other countries and contribute to the management of predators and wild places throughout the cheetah's range.
CCF's stance is that understanding the cheetah's biology and ecology is essential to stabilize the population and manage its sustainability for the future. Its strategy to save the wild cheetah is a three-pronged process of research, conservation and education, beginning with long-term studies to understand and monitor the factors affecting the cheetah's survival. Results of these studies are used to develop conservation policies and programs to sustain its populations. CCF actively works with local, national and international communities to raise awareness, communicate, educate and train. CCF's approaches include:
Science and Research
CCF conducts intensive scientific research and publishes papers on its research results in cheetah genetics, biology, ecology, health and reproduction, human impact and species survival. Through its publications, CCF provides assistance with the management of captive and free-ranging cheetah throughout the world. CCF also develops and implements non-lethal predator control and other improved livestock management practices, including relocation of problem cheetahs.
Conservation Biology and Management
CCF creates and manages long-term conservation strategies for the cheetah throughout their range. Its researchers develop, test, and promote alternative land management practices such as conservancy development, eco-tourism, and utilization of livestock guarding dogs.
Livestock Guarding Dog Program
CCF recognized that commercial farmers in Namibia were in need of increased protection for their cattle and other small stock (goats, sheep) by which they earn a living. In direct response, CCF introduced a guarding dog program. It breeds Anatolian Shepherds, places them with farmers, supplies free medical care for the dogs, and trains farmers in dog care and support. These working dogs then live with the herds 24 hours a day, scaring away predators such as the cheetah. This program has achieved extraordinary success. To date, over 200 dogs have been placed, with a direct impact on lowering the number of wild cheetahs trapped and killed in Namibia.
Education and Outreach
CCF's Education and Outreach staff take the message "We Can Live Together" to schools and communities throughout Namibia. CCF provides specific trainings in conservation biology, natural resource management, appropriate land use, and livestock and wildlife management to farmers, teachers and students. Its Research and Education Center is known as the best, most comprehensive cheetah educational museum in the world. The many daily visitors to CCF's headquarters go on a self-guided educational exploration of the cheetah's history, range, biology, characteristics, conservation status and issues.
Hands-on farmers' training courses provide participants with an understanding of the economic and ecological value of predators as well as their behavior and ecology. The courses serve multiple purposes: to train participants to correctly identify causes of livestock losses; to instill a desire to protect and integrate predators into their farming and conservancy areas; to provide basic administrative and wildlife management skills; to teach livestock husbandry and management to reduce losses to predators, disease, poisonous plants, and birthing problems; and to emphasize the importance of their participation in the success of their conservancies.
Over the years, CCF's conservation programs have emphasized community-based conservation efforts aimed specifically at commercial farmers in Namibia, as well as data collection on individual animals that otherwise would have been destroyed. This approach has been highly successful: CCF has grown dramatically, new facilities have been constructed, professional collaborations have taken place, and research papers have been written and published. CCF has gained substantial international recognition. More importantly, by several measures, cheetah removals have declined and farmer attitudes have improved.
Despite this success in Namibia, cheetah populations continue to face grave threats in differing ecological, social and political contexts throughout the cheetah's range. CCF's strategic vision for the next decade implores the organization to prioritize staff and resource allocation to reach these other regions. CCF has already initiated affiliate projects in Kenya and Iran. This vision will integrate existing research information and lessons learned from previous conservation efforts into enhanced and wider-reaching conservation programs.