This year has been another rollercoaster for the conservation world. A huge ivory burn in Kenya with the hashtag #worthmorealive and just last week we had some alarming figures in from Paul Allen’s Great Elephant Survey. The stats are heartbreaking. In 15 of the 18 countries surveyed, African Savannah Elephant numbers are down by 30%. I don’t need to tell you what a huge decline in numbers that translates to.
Elephants are deep, emotional souls who look after each other to the nth degree, from beginning to end.
Too many of us and too few of them. But I have faith that the next generation will continue the work that we’re implementing now, the work of scientists, rangers and keepers whose work is made possible by donations large and small and in some cases simply by volunteering.
Who didn’t fall in love with little orphan elephant Ndotto last night on Ingenious Animals? Tears were rolling down my face. Total basket case.
And Toto on the BBC’s Big Cat Diary in 2008. Son of Honey the cheetah, Toto was predated by another big cat, a lion. Too awful for words but that is life in the wild.
Namibia may be home to the largest population of cheetahs but did you know there are under 7,000 cheetahs left in the world today? 7,000. Extinct in over 20 countries now, that number has dropped from 100,000 in 1900. That’s a 90% decline over the last century.
This is not solely the problem of game hunting and illegal wildlife trade, this is also due to loss of habitat and conflict between humans and these wild animals.
Aeons ago, keeping cheetahs as pets was a status symbol, a sign of great wealth for Royalty and nobility. Sadly, despite all efforts by the conservation community, media and outreach programmes, demand today for these wild cats to be kept as pets – the more vulnerable the animal, the cooler the status of the owner – is still high as is made evident frequently in the Daily Mail.
Illegally captured from the wild they are then smuggled through countries and across borders to their new homes. Only one in six cubs will survive the journey, not enough to satisfy demand so the hunters return to their quarry and so the process begins all over again.
In their natural habitat, cheetahs require large amounts of space with suitable prey, shelter and water in order to survive. But this vital space is constantly being eroded away by the unending rise and spread of the human population.
And that in itself breeds another problem, human-wildlife conflict. In part due to the loss of their land, cheetahs are coming into contact ever more with humans, that being farmers and their livestock.
This livestock provides income for the farmers and food for the cheetahs, each side fighting for survival. And in this survival battle, the cheetah has almost always lost out, being shot or trapped by the farmer. It doesn’t help their cause that unlike other predators, cheetahs hunt during the day and are therefore more visible than nocturnal predators.
Cheetahs are predated by other species within environments such as wildlife reserves and national parks. Larger predators like lion, leopard and hyena all compete with cheetahs for prey but the cheetahs also regularly become the prey themselves due to their size and especially as small cubs. In Namibia, cheetah cub mortality can be as high as 90%.
The cheetah is literally running out of time.
So, what is being done to reverse this alarming drop in numbers.
To the north of Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, lies Otjiwarongo, home to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, the world’s leading charity dedicated to fighting for the cheetah’s survival and now 25 years in service. Founded by Dr Laurie Marker in 1990, she and her team have been working to develop a way to have humans live harmoniously with cheetahs via an integrated series of programmes, one of which is the Livestock Guarding Programme, which is yielding great results but crucially still has a long way to go.
Dr Laurie Marker with a Livestock Guarding Dog and her trusty Land Rover Defender
In Turkey, Anatolian shepherd and Kangal dogs have been placed amongst smaller livestock for decades to protect flocks against bears and wolves.
In many cases, where farmers are so poor and where the loss of a single animal can have devastating consequences on their lives, CCF has been operating a breeding programme with these two breeds since 1994, placing these dogs as puppies with Namibian farmers for the same effect and to great success, reducing livestock loss from all predators by between 80 and 100%. The puppies grow up developing a bond with the herd in which they’re placed. As large, imposing breeds, their equally loud barks scare away potential predators.
Naturalist Chris Packham wearing our ‘Born To Be Wild’ T shirt
Alongside the breeding programme, CCF also educates the farmers who have adopted the puppies in how to train the dogs and follow up with site visits to ensure the training is working and to provide any medical care that may be needed.
Not only is the programme working, almost 500 dogs were placed on farms by the end of 2013. As it stands now, there is a 2 year waiting list for puppies and whatsmore, people’s attitudes to cheetahs and other predators are changing which is key to progression.
In order to amplify their mission, CCF also runs continued outreach programmes from their Centre at Otjiwarongo and throughout Namibia, education is after all critical to their mission’s success and to the cheetah’s survival.
Their Centre is open to the public daily and offers constantly running activities and programmes for both local and international visiting students.
Dr Marker and her team visit schools, farms, zoos, societies such as the National Geographic in London and many other public communities around the world to demonstrate their work and importantly to educate the public in how they can get involved in supporting their methods to save the cheetah and to continually update on biodiversity and conservation.
The future of this beautiful and diverse continent is dependant on coming generations. Their education, awareness and training will impact Africa not just environmentally but also socially and economically.
CCF’s work and continued commitment so long as funding is available, aims to give the next generation of African conservation managers the best possible training so that they are equipped to carry on the legacy of the charity’s work.
International Cheetah Day is on December 4th, just a few months away and it happens every year. There are many ways to be involved and to help increase awareness globally via social media and more. The work of CCF simply cannot stop, the message has to continue and it is down to us to make that happen.
Sitting on the dusty ground with a 3 year old cheetah lying next to me, feeling her deep purr resonate through my body was a profound moment, pure trust. To think that these graceful, shy creatures could still disappear from view forever cuts deep into the soul.
To learn more about CCF’s work and to visit them in Otjiwarongo: