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BE Wildlife Heroes Dr. Laurie Marker


Marker is part of a team investigating the feasibility of reestablishing a population of cheetahs to India, where they have been extinct for sixty years. “We’ve identified suitable habitat, and we’re working with the government of India to make it happen.” Today there are only cheetahs in Africa and a small pocket of about a hundred cheetahs in Iran, where CCF is also working. “Wouldn’t it be amazing to bring cheetahs back to another part of Asia in our lifetime?”


Marker has real hope for the cheetah, as despite their many threats, they have shown a resilience and ability to survive throughout history. Cheetahs are the oldest of the big cats and can readily adapt to their environment. For example the long-legged, short- haired cheetahs of the Sahara desert are genetically very similar but very different looking from the longer-haired cheetahs found in the milder climate of Namibia. Marker observes, “The desert cheetahs make the cheetahs in my part of the world look more like snow leopards.”


Although she has now been immersed in the world of cheetah conservation for more than thirty-five years, Marker still encounters surprises. In 2010 she received a call from a landowner in Angola, claiming to have seen cheetahs near his property. After a three- decade war, the scientific community had generally given up on the possibility of healthy wildlife populations̶much less apex predators̶surviving in the country. But Marker decided to go anyway and look for the unlikely signs of cheetahs. To her amazement she actually saw two cheetahs on her first survey out into Angola wilderness. “I don’t know if the animals had emigrated from northern Namibia, or if they had held on during the long conflict, but they were there. So were oryx and springbok, and other cheetah prey that had made a comeback in the past few years. It was thrilling!


“The cheetah is the most amazing animal. It equals anything as exciting as dinosaurs.” Says Marker, “Nothing in the world can equal its speed, build, or adaptations. But right now it’s running its most important race̶for survival. The challenges are huge: rising populations, high levels of poverty, few wildlife protected areas where cheetahs survive, and shrinking wilderness. But with commitment, bigger partners, and bigger plans that pull together the best conservation and economic models, I think we can still win.”


CHEETAH FAST FACTS


Scientific Name: Acinonyx jubatus Range: Found in various countries of sub-Saharan Africa, with a small population surviving in Iran. Population Trend: Declining Populations have dropped from 100,000 individuals to just 10,000. IUCN Status: Vulnerable in southern and East Africa, critically endangered in West and North Africa and Iran.


What You Should Know about Cheetahs


The distinctive black “teardrop” markings running from the corners of cheetahs’ eyes to their mouths help keep the sun out of their eyes and aid in hunting.


Specialized internal organs and its sleek muscular build allow the cheetah to reach speeds of 70 miles per hour in just three seconds, with no feet touching the ground at points during its stride.


A genetic bottleneck in the species occurred approximately 10,000 years ago, and all wild and captive cheetahs today are as genetically close as twins.


Wild-caught “hunting cheetahs” popular in Asia and the Middle East contributed to the near extinction of the Asian cheetah.


Why It Is Important to Save Cheetahs


As the fastest apex land predator, the cheetah helps control prey levels of those species that can outrun other predators. They also keep the prey populations healthy by weeding out the sick, weak, and slow. Finally, Cheetahs feed other animals, as their kills provide for scavengers, such as vultures, hyenas, and jackals.


Dr. Laurie Marker is the Founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund and has spent more than 35 years working with cheetahs.


She holds a PhD from the Oxford University, United Kingdom and has received several awards including Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010), and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Diego Zoological Society (2008).


INSPIRATION │ KNOWLEDGE


For more information visit: www.cheetah.org


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