I can’t imagine coming to my beloved Africa and not being able to sit and watch the majestic cheetahs roaming the plains, however, this could be the case in 20 years as there are now less 10,000 cheetahs left in the world. Thanks to hunting, loss of habitat and the illegal wildlife trade, the cheetah population has reduced by 90 per cent over the last century.
Cheetahs need to be saved in the wild. Unlike other creatures they don’t fare as well in wildlife reserves and national parks as larger predators like lion, leopard and hyena steal their food and kill their young. The cheetah is literally running out of time. So, what is being done to reverse this alarming drop in numbers?
To the north of Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, lies Otjiwarongo, home to the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), the world’s leading charity dedicated to fighting for the cheetah’s survival and now 25 years in service. Founded by American Dr Laurie Marker in 1990, she and her team have been working to develop a way to have humans live harmoniously with cheetahs via an integrated series of programmes.
Dr Marker had been working at a wildlife safari park in the US and in 1977 took one of the cheetahs that she had hand-reared in Oregon to Namibia to see if the cheetah would be able to hunt in the wild. However, when Dr Marker arrived in Namibia she found that the farmers were catching and killing cheetahs, which they viewed as vermin.
Dr Marker immediately wanted to understand the situation and find out if the cheetahs were a perceived threat or an actual threat to farmers, their families and livestock. After buying an old Land Rover and touring the farms, she realised that it was quite clearly a perceived threat, so she left her job in the US and set up the CCF in Namibia. But she knew that if she wanted the farmers to help her, she would have to help them. A farmer’s daughter herself, and an entrepreneur, she understood wildlife and running a business, so she looked at ways she could boost their prosperity, protect their livelihoods and save this beautiful animal from extinction.
She opened a centre at Otjiwarongo, which focused on research, conservation and education. Over the next few years she launched three initiatives, which have now helped stabilise the cheetah population of Namibia – the Livestock Guarding Programme, the Dancing Goat Creamery and Bushblok. After getting farmers onside by showing them how important cheetahs are to tourism she then implemented her first scheme – the Livestock Guarding Programme. The CCF donated Anatolian Shepherd and Kangal dogs to the farmers, which they could use to protect their herds.