Cheetahs are beautiful creatures. They have stunning tear drop facial markings. They have lean graceful bodies with long, flat rudder-like tails. And they can go from zero to sixty with a mere thirty feet of runway.
Unfortunately they are also very endangered with fewer than 10,000 believed to remain.
Why Are Cheetahs Endangered?
Cheetahs are roamers. They like a wide open territory for hunting. They don’t take well to fenced parks and reserves which means they are roving the open landscape, sharing their space with farmland. Carnivores and livestock farming can be a volatile mix and many herders shoot first and ask questions later when they see a cheetah in their pasture lands.
These pasture lands in Namibia have also become overrun with a tall thorn bush species. The bushes block the cheetah’s hunting sight-lines, making it more difficult for them to spot prey.
This loss of habitat and human/wildlife conflict has severely reduced the cheetah population. But the 3,600 remaining cheetahs in Namibia are lucky to have a strong advocate for their long-term survival.
Enter Laurie Marker. Laurie is the founder and visionary of Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). CCF’s mission is the conservation of cheetahs and their ecosystems. They do this with with a series of pioneering programs that work to save the cheetah by engaging local communities in both habitat conservation and the reduction of human-to-cheetah conflict.
About Laurie Marker and the Founding of CCF
Laurie began working with cheetahs in the early ’70s and spend 16 years studying captive cheetahs in breeding programs. In 1977, her work took her to Namibia. While there, she became more acutely aware of the endangered state of the wild cheetah population and the delicate nature of the human/wildlife coexistence. Over the next ten years she returned to Namibia many times in an effort to better understand the threats against the cheetahs and to formulate a plan for their survival.
During this same time, Namibia was experiencing a great deal of social and political change with a move to independence in 1988 and the transition away from the apartheid system. In 1990 Laurie decided to move to Namibia and she then established the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
Over time, her work evolved from pure research into an applied conservation model. This model works to engage local communities, commercial interests and the government in the shared conservation goal.
I cannot overstate the impact that this entrepreneurial conservation model has had on the stabilization of the cheetah population in Namibia as well as the development of conservation minded values in the local communities. This pioneering model of conservation work has also inspired also other conservation programs in southern Africa such as Cheetah Conservation Botswana and Painted Dog Conservation.
CCF is now a 26 year old organization with 34 staff and a conservation center near the Waterberg plateau that serves as the nerve center for CCF’s programs.
Cheetah Conservation Fund’s Pioneering Programs
CCF has tackled each of the cheetah’s threats with a great deal of hard work and creativity.
Cheetahs are opportunistic but cautious hunters. They maybe the world’s fastest land animal, but can be deterred by livestock guarding dogs. Guarding dogs were not traditionally used by farmers in Namibia. So CCF introduced a guarding dog adoption program which offers trained guarding dogs to the farmers. This program has helped reduce livestock loss from all predators by 80-100%. CCF breeds the dogs and trains the farmers on best practices for integrating the dogs into their herd management. Check out this CNN profile on the program. CCF also operates a model farm that they use as a training tool to educate farmers from all over Namibia.
CCF also rescues injured and threatened cheetahs, bringing them to an on-site rehabilitation facility. And they work with international partners to reduce the scourge of the illegal pet trade.
Reducing Habitat Loss by Increasing Habitat
Those pesky thorn bushes, as it turns out, make an excellent fuel. CCF is working with local communities to harvest, dry and chip the thorn bushes. The wood chips are then sent to a facility and processed into Bushblok, a high heat, low emission cooking fuel. The Bushblok program currently employs 60 people and has great potential to evolve into large scale social enterprise. The thorn bush is a thirsty plant and its removal from the Waterberg landscape helps reduces water consumption and which reduces stress on ground water resources. But most importantly to CCF, the program clears habitat for the cheetah.
CCF has also worked with regional partners to create an innovative land conservancy movement. Communal conservation areas have been developed in conjunction with local communities. These are not national parks or fenced nature reserves. Rather they are multi-use areas ‘owned’ by the local communities. They are tasked with management of the land and its resources, including the wildlife. And they can profit from the arrangement through a combination of farming, wildlife tourism and other income producing businesses.
This model gives locals a stake in the success of the wildlife conservation which in turn reduces the affect of negative external forces, such as poaching. There are currently 82 communal conservancies protecting 40% of the Namibian landscape. One such conservancy is the Waterberg landscape, near CCFs headquarters and the Waterberg plateau national park.
Visiting Namibia and CCF
Visit Cheetah Conservation Fund
CCF has a field headquarters and education center at the western edge of the Waterberg Plateau. They are a three hour drive north of Windhoek on the way to Etosha National Park. The center is open to the public and offers guided tours, educational presentations and even a peek at their resident cheetahs. If you have a group of six, you can rent their luxury Babson house. Those who want an extended stay can sign on for the volunteering program. It costs ~$3,000 for a two-week stay and offers working guests the opportunity to help with CCF programs.
Visiting the Waterberg Landscape and Waterberg Plateau
The Waterberg landscape conservancy encompasses the Waterberg Plateau national park, four communal conservancies and various freehold farms. The area has a high diversity of charismatic species such as: sable antelope, white and black rhino, wildebeest, steenbok, leopard and of course, the cheetah. The plateau is a spectacular sandstone feature rising high above the pains of the Kalahari desert. You can visit CCF, and then stay at one of the locally run lodges within the Waterberg plateau and the communal conservation areas.
Visit the Rest of Namibia
Namibia is one of the safest places in Africa to visit. So, after you stop off at CCF, Laurie recommends that you visit Etosha National park. It offers one of the best places to see the elusive cheetah in Namibia. You can also visit the Erindi private game reserve (closer to Windoek). They have diverse wildlife as well offering a diversity of lodging options from luxury to camping. Don’t miss Namibia’s stunning sand dune landscape in the Namibrand nature reserve. To learn more read about the great sand sea from Erika’s Travels. And if you love Etosha, you can also check out these 9 other great national parks in Africa. And if you are into UNECO cultural heritage, then visit Twyfelfontein, an archaeological site with 2,000 year old rock carvings. You can also check out this epic list of unique things to do in Namibia.
Namibia is a fairly easy country to navigate and many people self-drive their safaris. You can DIY it by booking most of your trip online. Laurie says that Namibia is a small, proud country which means that there is a good deal of self-regulation in the tourism industry. There is social pressure among tour operators to provide a quality experience for visitors. This should give you confidence for a visit that is fun for you…but that is also good for Namibia.
“Saving the world to save the cheetah.”
5 Ways to Support Cheetah Conservation Fund
CCF works hard to save the cheetah and you can do your part by supporting their programs. Here are a few ideas for you:
- Donate money directly to CCF. They are a registered charity and the cash will support the programs mentioned above
- Volunteer in your local community. CCF has chapters and affiliates all over the world
- Follow CCF on Facebook or Twitter and spread the word of their great work through your social media empire
- Go to Namibia. Visit CCF and support the lodges and tour providers in the local communal conservancies
Wildlife Heroes features Laurie Marker and 40 other awesome conservationists
National Geographic Readers teaches your kids about cheetahs and why they are awesome
Chasing Cheetahs features CCFs conservation work and shots of cheetahs in their natural landscape
Your Parting Shot
(Thank you to Laurie Marker, the staff of CCF, Vicky Morey, Eli Walker and Bobbie Bradley for their various contributions to this article. The book links in this article contain affiliate links)
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