UNITED NATIONS, May 6, 2010 (IPS) - Over the last century, 90 percent of the cheetah population in the world has been killed, and it is now the most endangered animal in
During the 1980s, the cheetah population of
But thanks to Laurie Marker, the founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, who has worked to protect the cheetahs from extinction for 36 years, the world's fastest land animal has a future.
IPS spoke with Marker, who was recently awarded the prestigious Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, commonly known as the "Nobel of Ecology". Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q: You started your career in a wildlife park in
A: No one knew anything about [cheetahs] back in those days, and they became the focal part of my research. I ended up in
Q: In reality, how large is the amount of damage to domestic stock caused by cheetahs?
A: It became more of a perceived threat than it was actually... the fact is that worldwide ranchers do not like predators, so where there was a cheetah and they could see it, they were killing it. The world has killed off most of our predators, unfortunately.
Q: What did the ranchers think about cheetahs in 1977?
A: When I first moved there people said "take all your cheetahs with you back to
The town which I live outside of, a ranching town, has coined their town the cheetah capital of the world, that is pretty interesting.
Q: How do you teach people the importance of biodiversity, and are they interested?
A: In Africa we do it through education, working with school children, working with subsistence and commercial farmers, working with government, agriculture department, ministry of environment, education and business.
I think people are interested.
Q: Another problem was habitat loss because of the spread of thorny bushes - a problem that limits the cheetahs' ability to see prey when hunting and also reduces the open space cheetahs need to accelerate and catch their prey. How did they spread so fast?
A: The thorny bushes came 50 to 60 years ago when ranchers were overgrazing the land and particularly when drought seasons came. When all the grass went, because the cows ate all the grass, the thorn bush - which is very fast growing and has very, very deep roots and sucks out all the water so grass does not grow - it took over a large part of the land. In a very simplistic way this bush that stands twice your size has reduced much of the biodiversity as well the habitat.
Q: You came up with a solution for both cheetahs and people. How does it work?
A: We cut the bushes down and chipped them up in a chipper and then we made through high pressure a fuel log of them. The fuel is an eco-log because it burns with a very hot heat and very low emissions, so it is carbon neutral. If you can affect the economies then you can help people out of their poverty cycle.
Q: Today, there are approximately 10,000 of these endangered cats remaining in Africa and
A: I would actually like to see us double the population in the next 10 years. It is actually doable and we can even do better than that. Less than 100 years ago there were 100,000 of them, in 90 years 90 percent of them have been killed. It can happen so quickly.
Q: Are compensation programmes for the ranchers a solution?
A: We are trying to encourage most countries not to have a compensation programme. We would rather, through good livestock and wildlife management, pay a compensation for our predator-friendly beef, so that they would then be compensated for not having losses. If you have good livestock management you can live with any predator in the world. Our cheetah work has actually taught us a lot about that and we teach this to people who live with wolves.
Q: You use a special dog to protect the livestock from cheetahs. Does that really work?
A: We are using large breeds from dogs from
Q: What is the U.N. doing for the cheetah and what needs to be done?
A: We would like the U.N. to help to support more programmes like ours - which are trying to get these models through to other countries... we need funds to actually put some of these programmes into affect. (END)