To see a cheetah in the wilderness

14 December 2020 | Tourism

The Tourism person of the month December is: Dr. Laurie Marker

- How did you come to Namibia?
I have spent my 40+ years career working on behalf of cheetahs. In 1990, I left my job at the Smithsonian Institution as Executive Director of The National Zoo’s New Opportunities in Animal Health Sciences (NOAHS) program in Washington, DC; sold all my worldly possessions; founded Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), and moved to Namibia. I chose Namibia because it has the greatest number of wild cheetah and provided the best opportunity to save the species due to the free ranging wildlife and the government’s commitment to the environment (and it is absolutely the most beautiful place on Earth).

- Where did the idea come from of supporting cheetahs?
During the 1970s and 1980’s, I was cheetah curator at Oregon’s Wildlife Safari, and I began traveling throughout Africa to study wild cheetahs. My early research brought me to Namibia. I quickly realized wild cheetah populations were rapidly declining. For almost a decade, I contacted conservation organizations and experts to take up the cause, but could find no one. I hated the idea of idly standing by watching the species race to extinction, so I created the Cheetah Conservation Fund. That was 1990, the same year of Namibia’s independence. We both celebrated 30th anniversaries in 2020.

- How can cheetah conservation and tourism be combined?
Wildlife is one of the main reasons tourists come to Namibia and Otjiwarongo is known as “The Cheetah Capital of the World”! Seeing a cheetah in the wild is what people want to see and Namibia has an opportunity share this experience with tourists. Most cheetahs are found outside of protected areas therefore, communities can benefit from having cheetahs and other wildlife on their lands, which sets Namibia apart from other African destinations. CCF’s Research and Education Centre is open to the public 364 days a year from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. (closed only on December 25) for day visitors and overnight guests, offering tours, and the opportunity to interact with CCF researchers and staff. The revenue we earn from tourism supports CCF conservation programs in the field.

- What else can be done for sustainable tourism in Namibia?
Addressing this question after experiencing COVID-19 is different than what I would say in any other year, which is to increase the awareness for Namibia’s tourism offerings around the world. But marketing alone will not cover the losses we are experiencing because of the pandemic. As an individual organization, we need to become more resilient; and as an industry, we need to think more about having a mechanism to support sustainable tourism through difficult times. This could be something like collecting a small fee from international visitors arriving at the airport and dispersing it as emergency funding.

- Meet Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of CCF
Raised as an agriculturist (dairy goats and grapes), and growing up on the back of my horse (I still ride daily), I am a conservation biologist recognized as one of the world’s leading cheetah experts. My research on cheetahs began in 1974 and I earned my DPhil in Zoology from the University of Oxford in the UK. I am an adjunct professor with several national and international universities and an A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. I have published more than 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers and multiple books on the cheetah, my favorite animal and Namibia’s feline icon of speed and elegance.

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