We’re thrilled to kick off our first Arkive’s Conservation Heroes series with the incredible Dr. Laurie Marker, a woman who founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia, Africa dedicated to restoring the wild cheetah. In this interview, Dr. Marker shares why she started a nonprofit, an average day-in-the-life at CCF, and her one dream for cheetahs. What is it? You’ll have to read on to find out! Finally, Dr. Marker and CCF have offered loads of ways that you can support the conservation of cheetahs right this very minute. If Dr. Marker’s story inspires you (or you just love big cats!), please click on the “Wish List” link here at the end of the interview and pledge to take one conservation action to support Cheetah Conservation Fund. Together, we can rally around the world to support conservation!
So, after working with cheetahs since 1974, you finally moved from the US to Namibia in 1990 to develop the CCF base. What was it that inspired you to save cheetahs over any other species?
When I started working with cheetahs in 1974, nobody knew anything about them and they weren’t breeding well anywhere. There weren’t many cheetahs in captivity and people were taking them out of the wild; wild numbers were declining. Questions I had helped us understand not only how special the animal was but also understand the basic biology, the genetic makeup, and the population of each individual. I’m still fascinated by cheetahs and trying to find out more each day about how we can save them.
A curious juvenile cheetah
Everyone knows that the cheetah is the fastest land mammal on the planet, can you tell us any other interesting facts?
Well, cheetahs are very wonderful in the way they run; every part of their body is built for speed. Their semi non-retractable claws are very usable as cleats for traction running. Moreover, they are very aerodynamic with their small head and enlarged arteries, lungs, and heart. They’ve got a very flexible backbone and, as they run and hunt, only one paw touches the ground at any point in their stride, but there’s two points in the stride when no paws touch the ground. They just keep going and their tail is like a rudder for balance to stabilize and go around sharp curves rapidly so they don’t roll over and spin out.
Your recent call to arms was extremely inspiring, how does CCF intend to ‘save the cheetah from extinction’?
I would say the next step is get more and more people engaged and actually scale up the programs that are already successful. There are only 10,000 cheetahs left in the world so our strategies rely on maintaining them in Namibia which has the largest remaining population. We need to provide economic alternatives to the farming communities, so that they find the cheetah as an economic friend to them versus a loss of their livestock. We’ve created a program that I call “Future Farmers of Africa” where in Namibia, we have integrated programs of wildlife, livestock and grazing lands throughout most of the areas where cheetahs are found. So there is a political landscape of trying to help guide policies in these rural African communities, helping support capacity building and training more and more not only good farmers, but good conservation scientists in Africa as well. Raising awareness in our western world where people sometimes have the disposable incomes that Africa does not have, and helping them realize that potentially their assistance is going to actually gain them a lot by helping get Africa out of poverty and saving the cheetah at the same time, is a focus as well.
Dr. Marker working on cheetah in field (Photo courtesy of CCF)
What has been your best moment since starting the Cheetah Conservation Fund?
Probably one of the highlights right now is the fact that our organization that I started 25 years ago is a quarter of a century old at this point. We have doubled the Namibian cheetah population and I’ve got programs going throughout most of the cheetah range countries. Conservation scientists are aware, the governments are aware. So a good moment only means I have more to do to have another good moment, because that good moment really lasts about a second.
What is an average day for you at the CCF base in Namibia?
We’ve got a lot of animals since we have a sanctuary so there are orphan cats that need to be cared for every day and we have a lot of school children that come in regularly. We have livestock guarding dogs and goats which are breeding; they need a lot of care. Farmers might also call you up and need a lot of help that could take a whole day or more than a day then your whole day changes. We’ve got a wilding program going on which asks where is the cheetah today. You’re tracking it and maybe they’ve killed a kudu so we say let’s go find its kill and track down what the habitat looks like. At a community level, probably spending your time getting ready to go into a community so that you’re prepared with the kinds of paperwork they need or slide presentation. You make sure that your pictures and the story you’re telling is something they can fully relate to when it comes to livestock care. So I would say that there’s international communications that go on on a regular basis and you know we’re a hopping crowd so I’ve got a very good staff of professional biologists, ecologists, veterinarians and geneticists all working about 100 miles an hour.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund Centre in Namibia, Africa (Photo courtesy of CCF)
Your story is extremely inspirational and encouraging for aspiring conservationists. Do you any advice to someone that would like to start their own charity or conservation project?
I ask myself why did I start a charity to begin with? I think that joining partnerships with organizations that are doing conservation work is really important. Sometimes you just need to jump off the deep end if you have an idea and know that potentially you might fall, but you can pick yourself back up and figure out what it is you’re going to do. Running a conservation organization deals with a business. It’s running a business from a perspective of getting funding and utilizing that donor’s funding properly so that you can show the results from that donation. My one dream is to see the cheetah living on earth for future generations and that’s going to take everybody cracking down and changing the way that they live and think. So there’s a whole behavior change around the entire world that has to be encouraged and our motto for the next 25 years is “Change the World to Save the Cheetah”.
Dr. Marker feeding a cheetah (Photo courtesy of Suzi Ezsterhas)
How can the general public help your organization and cheetahs as species?
I would say go to our website, give us a call, send an email, but we actively encourage people to take an active role in doing something and we need funding to be able to do the work that we need to do. Adopt one of our orphan cheetahs, sponsor one of our livestock guarding dogs so that we can keep doing more. We’ve got programs that are successful and we need the funding to scale them up and we need people to be aware of the fact that the cheetah is Africa’s most endangered big cat. We need to hold on to what we have and try to grow those populations.
From reading about Heroes to becoming one yourself
Inspired to take action to support Dr. Marker and the cheetahs of Africa? Please click on the button below to make a pledge today to take conservation action – actions that range from sharing Dr. Marker’s story socially to help spread the word further, to donating or even planning to volunteer time with Dr. Marker at the CCF centre in Namibia! Every action matters, please consider making a pledge today!