The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), research partner for Earthwatch's Cheetah project in Namibia, this year celebrates 20 years of working to save the most endangered cat in Africa.
Dr. Laurie Marker, CCF's Executive Director, with His Excellency Mr George Liswaniso, High Commissioner for the Republic of Namibia and his wife Agnes.
To celebrate this milestone, CCF UK recently held a fundraising benefit at the Natural History Museum in London, in the presence of CCF's co-founder and CEO and Earthwatch scientist, Dr. Laurie Marker. The event was also attended by His Excellency Mr George Liswaniso, High Commissioner for the Republic of Namibia and his wife Agnes.
Dr. Marker began travelling from the US to Africa in 1977 to conduct cheetah research. She saw a need to help save the wild cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) whose numbers were rapidly declining due to loss of habitat, loss of prey and hunting by farmers who were killing them as vermin and a threat to livestock. In 1990 she established CCF, and in 1991, after years of commuting, Dr. Marker sold her worldly possessions and moved to Namibia to work full time among the people on whose land the cheetah lives.
Namibia hosts the largest remaining wild cheetah population - about one third of the world's total. This Namibian population is now estimated at about 3,000, a number which has increased over the past 18 years due to CCF's efforts and the support of the Namibian community.
Dr. Marker said: "CCF creates long-term conservation strategies for cheetah worldwide, including developing and supporting cheetah conservation programs in other countries such as Kenya and Iran. It develops and implements improved livestock management practices, encouraging farmers not to kill cheetah. Guarding dogs bred by CCF are donated to Namibian farmers, reducing the loss of livestock to cheetah and other predators. We also continue intensive scientific research in cheetah genetics, biology and species survival."
Earthwatch support leads to conservation success
Earthwatch has supported CCF for the past 14 years, recruiting volunteers who help with the research tasks at CCF's base - seven farms on 46,000 hectares in the north central part of Namibia. Since 1996 Earthwatch has helped to place over 260 livestock guarding dogs, which are important for reducing human predator conflict, and Earthwatch volunteers have helped to release eight cheetahs back into the wild at the NamibRand Nature Reserve. In 2009 CCF started monitoring the ‘NamibRand boys,' five male cheetahs that CCF had released into the reserve, an area that hadn't seen cheetahs for decades. These cheetahs had been in captivity since they were adolescents, but in an area large enough to allow them to hunt. CCF had long been working on a process for ‘re-wilding' captive cheetahs. These animals were chosen for release into the unfenced wilderness of southern Namibia because they had demonstrated good hunting abilities. Later three females were released and one has since given birth to cubs fathered by one of the NamibRand males. Now cheetahs roam in an area where they had earlier been exterminated.
Namibia hosts the largest remaining wild cheetah population.
Earthwatch volunteers contribute to a wide variety of CCF activities and each task contributes to CCF's ongoing research, conservation, and education programs.
Dr. Marker said: "Volunteers may collect and review data, electronically update biomedical inventories, go on game counts, maintain cheetah holding pens, and care for the livestock guarding dogs and their goat herds. Volunteers have the opportunity to help CCF staff in the day-to-day operations of the farm, radio-tracking activities, and the daily feeding routine and monitoring of CCF's non-releasable cheetahs."
Public education and the development of active grass-roots support are also integral components of the project. CCF works with farmers, teachers, and the rest of the community, spreading the word about the need and methods for conserving Namibia's rich biodiversity, as well as about the role cheetahs play in maintaining healthy ecosystems.
CCF has been working to save the cheetah for twenty years.
The cheetah is the world's fastest land animal and needs a large home range to survive. In 1900, an estimated 100,000 cheetahs ranged across Africa. Today the wild population of these magnificent cats has declined to less than 10,000. During the last 60 years, they have become extinct in 16 of the countries where they once lived and carried out their important role in the ecosystem. The cheetah is threatened by human population growth, civil wars leading to poaching of prey, conflict with livestock and game farming, illegal trade in live cheetah and skins, and isolated populations reducing their viability to reproduce.