This past summer, I threw zebra meat to two sprinting cheetahs. I’m sure you know they are the fastest land mammal (the truck they were following was speeding at about 40mph), but did you know that by saving the cheetahs (and giving them zebra meat), you can save other big cats from extinction, increase biodiversity, and even reduce trophy hunting (can you say, “Cecil”)?
HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
For a graduate study in conservation biology, I traveled to Namibia in southwestern Africa to participate in a successful model of conservation at The Cheetah Conservation Fund. When they started 25 years ago, their goal was simple: increase the population of cheetahs in Namibia.
Since their inception, they have done just that! Now, Namibia has the world’s largest population of cheetahs, with 90 percent living outside protected reserves on farmlands that make up 85 percent of the country. Though challenging to count, CCF has been successful at implementing various census and monitoring methods, radio-telemetry, spoor track counts and camera traps.
WHEN AIMING TO INCREASE THE POPULATION, LAND, PREY AND THE LOCALS NEED TO BE CONSIDERED.
When you have bursts of extraordinary speed to catch prey, like the cheetah, you obviously need lots of clear, open space to run. You can’t have thornbush getting in the way of your lunch! (Or for me, it was just snagging my new outdoor pants.) Due to drought and certain farming practices, nearly impenetrable vegetation has been taking over the once open savanna. So, CCF and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) collaborated to create a sustainable, ecologically and economically viable business: the Bushblok! They have turned encroaching bush into high-heat, low-emission, compacted logs for use as a cooking fuel, for home heating and perhaps to even power large swaths of southern Africa with sustainable energy. Run fast and run free, cheetahs!
While touring Etosha National Park, I was fortunate to witness a cheetah darting towards one of its wild prey: a springbok. Not all cheetah have a plethora of ungulates to chase down, so they end up going after farmers’ livestock. If a predator was gobbling up your income, you may also be inspired to take them down. CCF, however, is committed to reducing the need for farmers to kill cheetah that end up on their land, prowling for a cow. Back at the ranch, we interacted with their solution: dogs!
LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH
CCF found that both donkeys and dogs are successful at scaring away potential predators. While at the facility, I met some of the Kangal and Anatolian Shepherds that are part CCF’s Livestock Guarding Dog Program. (No petting the adults nor the adorable puppies which would throw off their instinct for being a working dog, though!) Giving local farmers puppies, training, and follow-up care has decreased livestock kills by predators and predator kills by farmers by 80-100%. Attitudes have become more positive and understanding towards predators, and there is a two-year waiting list for puppies! (You can reduce that wait time here.)
The Cheetah Conservation Fund has become an extraordinary conservation model as it not only helps to increase the population of the most endangered African cat, the cheetah, but it also works to increase land, plant and animal biodiversity as well as to proliferate the economic status of local farmers. Because of them, Namibia as a nation has become quite the model in Africa for success in the socio-ecological conservation realm: over 40% of its land area is protected under some form of conservation status and conservation itself (as well as environmental education) is mentioned in the constitution.
If you can’t make it to Namibia and hurl zebra meat at the fastest cat alive, what can you do to conserve this species and the state of conservation in all of Africa? Click on the links below to learn more and do more for the planet.
If you are interested in helping to examine motivating factors for conservation action, feel free to fill out this <5 minute, completely anonymous survey where all questions are optional. http://tinyurl.com/pw7tryo
Header photo by Heidi Zellie, 2015