World-renowned cheetah conservationist visits Busch Gardens

- They're the fastest animals on earth:  lean, graceful, majestic. But cheetahs are in the race of their lives, to survive.

Lack of genetic diversity, conflicts with farmers and loss of habitat have made this charismatic cat one of the most endangered creatures on the planet, but they've got a powerful ally.

For 25 years, Dr. Laurie Marker and the Cheetah Conservation Fund have been on the front lines of cheetah conservation, trying to insure they'll be here for future generations.

Dr. Marker founded CCF in the western African nation of Namibia in 1990, when farmers were still shooting cheetahs on sight.

Dr. Marker explained, "In the early days we were seeing 800 cheetahs a day being killed. These days that's dropped down to almost nothing because of working with the farming community, working with that livestock management and it's an ongoing thing."

She and her staff started working with farmers, initiating a herd dog program to keep their livestock safe and cheetahs out of the crosshairs.They reached out to communities and to the children of Namibia, helping them understand the value of conservation. Dr. Marker said it's an ongoing effort.

"Realizing that the wildlife can be a very important part of their economy through ecotourism as well," she said.

There's also a not-so-new problem with the poaching of cheetahs. CCF monitoring reveals that between 2005-2015, more than 1,000 cheetahs or cheetah products were illegally removed from the wild, the majority for the pet trade in the Middle East, where wealthy owners consider them status symbols.

Even worse, they're being poached from small pockets of cheetahs in northern Africa already in serious trouble.

Dr. Marker said, "they are a wild animal. They're not a pet animal. And what we're finding is that for every one animal that might make it into the trade, we're losing at least five or more."

Dr. Marker is encouraged, however, that the United States seems poised to step up the global war on wildlife trafficking. The "End Wildlife Trafficking Act" introduced in congress would help the government work better with foreign leaders to try to curb the losses of endangered wildlife, including cheetahs. 

But she also knows the key to saving these magnificent cats rests in the hands of individuals. She says everyone must care enough to cooperate and coexist.

As Dr. Marker put it, "it's people and animals living together. And us coming up with strategies so that both and all can win."

To find out more about Dr. Laurie Marker and the Cheetah Conservation Fund, visit www.cheetah.org or https://www.facebook.com/CCFcheetah/

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