With only about 10,000 cheetahs remaining in the wild, and its range drastically reduced from its historic base, the cheetah in 2013 still faces a race against extinction. The most current studies still indicate that unless we take significant action, the cheetah as a species could be gone from the wild in as little as 20 years.
But even in the face of the face of this grim outlook, Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) retains its dream of a world where cheetahs live and flourish in co-existence with people and the environment. Cheetahs represent a significant conservation challenge because cheetahs do not thrive in preserve lands; they need large landscapes where they can hunt without being in close competition with lions and hyenas for prey. Ninety percent of cheetahs in the wild therefore do not live in protected areas, but in fact live alongside human populations.
Consequently, CCF's mission to save the cheetah in the wild encompasses measures addressing human-wildlife conflict, poverty alleviation, habitat restoration and large landscape conservation. Saving the cheetah really is about saving the world, and changing the face of Africa.
Last year, we focused quite a lot on our Bushblok project. Namibia suffers from bush encroachment, a form of desertification resulting from overgrowth of native thornbush. The cheetah hunts using bursts of speed, and the presence of the thickened thornbush thwarts their hunting and causes injuries, particularly to the eyes.
Bush encroachment also hurts Namibia's economy. Thornbush covers almost 120 million acres in Namibia, reducing available grazing land for livestock and wildlife. Economic losses in the agricultural sector are estimated at U.S. $180 million annually. CCF produces Bushblok, a fuel log, by selectively harvesting thornbush. The project currently employs over 30 Namibians, and has restored thousands of acres of land to productive use.
Bushblok is merely one component of an integrated system of programs CCF has developed that work together to supply effective conservation measures for cheetahs over large landscapes, and allow human populations in these areas to thrive as well.
CCF maintains a model farm and farm-related enterprises, and manages over 100,000 acres of integrated livestock and wildlife farmland. CCF's Future Farmers of Africa (FFA) uses these resources to teach integrated conservation, livestock and wildlife management techniques to farmers. FFA builds skills and educates rural and marginalized farmers about supplemental income streams, enabling them to practice sustainable livestock farming that reduces human-wildlife conflict and provides economic opportunity.
The FFA program dovetails with CCF's highly successful Livestock Guarding Dog program, which places Anatolian shepherd and Kangal dogs with farmers to provide non-lethal predator control for their herds... Farmers employing a CCF dog find their predation rates from all predators are reduced by 80 percent or more.
CCF is also participating in another project, the Greater Waterberg Complex (GWC), in hopes that it will become a model of large landscape conservation in action. The GWC encompasses over four million acres, including the Eastern Communal lands known as Hereroland. CCF is working with the farmers in the GWC to assist in habitat restoration, reintroduction of wildlife, and training in integrated wildlife and livestock management skills. When fully operational, these communities will be empowered to manage and develop their livestock and wildlife resources, restore their land to productive use, and promote tourism.
The most encouraging thing about all of this activity for the cheetah is -- in Namibia at least -- it's working.
Cheetah populations in Namibia, where CCF operates, have risen significantly in the last 10 years, and may have even doubled in size. Attitudes about the cheetah are changing among Namibian farmers, and livestock managers who once saw the cheetah as a pest to be eliminated now understand that this iconic species is a wildlife treasure. The conservancies and their efforts have brought the potential for economic growth and prosperity to parts of the country that have found it difficult to engage in sustainable economic development.
Unfortunately, the outlook for cheetahs in the other 23 countries where they may still be found is less bright. CCF is actively looking for ways to expand its current programs, and export its solutions to other areas where cheetahs may be found in the wild. CCF's participation in efforts like the Clinton Global Initiative, and its commitment to expand the Bushblok project, is one example of efforts to further CCF's proven solutions.
In the meantime, CCF and its staff work tirelessly, every day, to ensure the survival of the cheetah. We've been performing new and important research, such as our recent study on parasitology of cheetahs. Every day we reach new milestones - another litter of puppies is born; another batch of goat cheese is produced by our new creamery; a cheetah is rescued from a farmer's trap. Every day also brings new challenges - cheetahs die; equipment breaks; supplies run out. CCF continues its work, every day, because we can't imagine a world without the cheetah. We don't plan to rest until the cheetah wins its race against extinction.
We hope that you will join us in our work - Donate, Visit or Volunteer. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. With your help, 2013 can be the year we take our biggest strides to win the cheetah's race for survival.
Follow Dr. Laurie Marker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/chewbaaka