Careers

A day in the life of a cheetah conservationist

Posted by
Stylist Team
Published

Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia, walks us through her day

7am: After a cup of coconut coffee, I start each day by going out on a ride with my favourite horse, Shandy. These morning rides are not only for exercise or pleasure, but to check the fences on CCF farmland and see what is happening with wildlife in the area. Tracks of the various species tell the story of the night before and allow us to monitor the presence of predators around the CCF Centre in Namibia. I regularly find evidence of leopards, brown hyenas and jackals.

Less regularly, I find tracks of cheetahs, which always gives me a jolt of excitement. Cheetahs are extremely rare, but our work in Namibia, where the CCF headquarters are based, has seen numbers grow in this country over the past decades, and Namibia is now known as the cheetah capital of the world. Sadly, this is not the case for the planet as a whole, and cheetah numbers are on the decline. There are now fewer than 7,100 of them left in the wild.

8am: At 8am I supervise the exercise session for the CCF ambassador cheetahs, known as the “Cheetah Run”, or some of our other orphaned cheetahs at CCF. These cheetahs are either orphaned or have been rescued from farmer’s traps, and for one reason or another are unable to return to the wild. We care for them at CCF, and make sure they lead as natural a life as possible. CCF day visitors and overnight guests observe the running session and witness how the cheetah’s body is completely built for speed. The run is designed to provide exercise to improve the overall health of the orphan cheetahs, and it is a great opportunity for the guests to take pictures of them. After the run, I answer questions and help to explain more about CCF’s programmes and how to keep cheetahs in the wild, or, if they are orphaned and in captivity, how to keep them healthy. 

9am: I go to the ‘kraal’ to check in with the livestock guarding dog and model farm staff, meeting the new goat kids who have recently been born and even helping the goats that are giving birth. I check in on the litters of livestock guarding dog puppies that are ever-present at CCF, making sure they are progressing in their training and healthcare, so they are ready to be placed with farmers when they reach three months of age. We breed large dogs called Anatolian Shepherds in our livestock guarding dog programme. We place these dogs as puppies with livestock farmers. The dogs live with the herd, protecting them from predators including cheetahs. We have found that farmers are less likely to shoot cheetahs to protect their livestock, and since our programme started, cheetah numbers in Namibia have increased dramatically as a direct result of the dogs.

10am: I visit the CCF clinic to talk with the veterinary staff about the status of CCF cheetahs, livestock guarding dogs, and other livestock animals in their care. In special cases, there may be a cheetah health procedure scheduled, like surgery to repair a damaged limb or eye, or a visit from the local dentist.

11am: Midmorning is when I catch up on e-mails, meet with staff, or give media interviews, edit CCF documents and write my research papers and books - whatever I happen to be working on at the time. Staff come in and out of the office in a steady flow, seeking advice and direction on a multitude of projects.

12.30pm: I make a stop at the CCF visitor centre to check on the activities in the cheetah gift shop and café. I greet staff and any visitors coming through, and depending on my schedule, grab a quick lunch.

2pm: This is feeding time. I drop in on the cheetah sanctuary to observe the feeding of our 30-odd CCF resident cheetahs and check on individual animals if the cheetah keepers have any specific questions. 

Dr Marker during an operation

2.30pm: I head back to the office to check emails and touch base with CCF affiliates all over the world. We have offices in the US, the UK and Canada, and affiliates in France, Italy, Australia, Belgium, Germany and regional and local chapters in the United States.

At least once a week, I spend the afternoon away from the office, taking meetings with business leaders and government officials in Windhoek or Otjiwarongo, or visit community members of the Eastern Communal Lands adjacent to CCF. Here, CCF staff conduct research, conservation programmes and craft training workshops to boost the skill sets of the local people. I’m passionate about education and our conservation ethos at CCF is very much founded in the education of those who live alongside cheetahs.

Other times, I may go out in the field to check on cats that are a part of CCF’s cheetah re-wilding programme, tracking the signal emitted from their satellite-radio collars. Or, I might be called by a local farmer to pick up a trapped cheetah or a litter of orphaned cubs they discovered on his or her lands. My days are varied and incredibly interesting!

6pm: I take a drive into the CCF wildlife reserve to check on the grazing and herds of wildlife that are in the ‘little Serengeti’. At this point our guests are out on a sundowner game drive, and if I can I like to join them for a drink to take in the sunset at the end of a busy day!

7pm: I usually have my evening meal at the Hotspot, the CCF communal dining area, with staff and interns. This is usually a fun time to socialise with my staff, but it is also a great way to meet and go over the activities of the day. CCF opened our Cheetah View Lodge earlier this summer, an eco lodge to attract more visitors to CCF and boost eco tourism and conservation funding. Sometimes I will eat in its private dining facility, mingling with lodge guests, or join Babson Guests for dinner at the Babson House, our other tourist facility.

8.30pm to 11.30pm: I get back on my computer to write, taking advantage of the quiet time to be alone with my thoughts. This is also my time to process what is happening with the state of the cheetah, to brainstorm about creative conservation solutions and how to address the cheetah’s threats which are wide ranging.

Sometime between midnight and 1am I drift off to sleep, recharging my batteries so I can be ready for another busy day at CCF’s Field Research and Conservation Centre.

Images: courtesy of CCF / Jean Wimmerlin