On Monday, April 17, the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens had a truly remarkable opportunity. We hosted Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund. An expert in her field, she has been working closely with the breeding and reintroduction of cheetahs for nearly 50 years, including building the CCF in 1990.
After a tour of the facilities and an up-close introduction to the Zoo’s own handsome cheetah brothers Cheeto and Frito, Dr. Marker lent some of her expertise and insight to the carnivore keeper team, covering a range of topics from behaviors and nutrition to genetics and habitat.
In the evening, Dr. Marker gave a presentation on cheetah conservation to guests and VIPs, tracing her journey from winery and goat farm owner to managing hundreds of thousands of acres of land devoted to cheetah conservation in both Namibia and Somaliland.
Cheetah populations once hovered around 100,000 in the year 1900, dropping significantly over the century to less than 7,100 animals today. Now extinct in over 20 countries where they once lived, these beautiful and unique cats still need our help.
“Education is key”, she emphasized, sharing stories about developing laws in the Middle East to prevent illegal wildlife trade that puts wild cheetahs at risk. From teaching African farmers not to kill these animals out of fear to introducing the concept that wildlife is an important part of people’s lives, she’s been spreading awareness on a human level.
The CCF in Namibia has also done incredible work with habitat restoration, developing systems that clear wild thornbush from overgrown and unusable land, as well as a program that introduces livestock guard dogs to local farmers in order to deter the old “kill on sight” policy when it comes to these natural wild predators.
Their facility in Namibia has also performed critical research for reproduction, stating that ‘There is hope!’ when it comes to cheetah conservation and repopulation. Tracking genetic traits among cheetahs in zoos, Dr. Marker has worked closely with the AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction program to create cheetah studbooks to promote genetic diversity. “Your own Zoo cheetahs may someday be part of the saving grace of cheetahs living in the wild,” she said.
We at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens were honored to host Dr. Marker. It was, as one of our animal team leaders says, a career highlight of a day.
And you, too, can make a difference! If you’d like to help, visit http://www.cheetah.org to donate, volunteer, or simply spread awareness about cheetah conservation.
We know Cheeto and Frito will also be waiting on your visit!