Reason #17 why I love my job: not many people get to spend their lunch hour four feet away from a live cheetah.
Then again, I suppose some people might see close proximity to a large, agile carnivore as less than desirable, but I trusted in the cheetah’s more than capable handlers to control him.
This 11-month old “cheetah ambassador” came as a visitor from the Columbus Zoo, along with an Anatolian shepherd dog that has been raised alongside the cheetah. The zoo staff has found that raising the dogs together with the cheetahs makes the cheetahs more relaxed and even-tempered for education and outreach programs.
As a room overflowing with CI staff watched the cheetah and dog explore their new surroundings (both on short leashes), Dr. Laurie Marker, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), talked to us about the plight of wild cheetahs and the diverse projects her organization is implementing to help them survive.
Although CCF differs from CI in its single-species focus, I was struck by the similarities as I listened to Dr. Marker describe the variety of projects CCF is conducting that strive to not only protect cheetahs, but improve the livelihoods of local people. The organization runs a working farm in Namibia with cattle, goats and sheep that serves as a cheetah-friendly model for nearby farmers. It is also expanding a project that converts thornbush into low-emissions fuel logs, creating an important fuel source and local employment while restoring the open terrain that is the cheetah’s natural habitat.
Organizations like CI and CCF share the vision of a world where people and nature can, and must, coexist. It is only through partnership that we can really hope to make this dream a reality.
Edit: Stay tuned in the coming months to learn more about livestock and wildlife conflict in southern Africa, and how Anatolian shepherd dogs a continent away from the one in our office are helping conservation.