By Kerry Golds
Dr. Laurie Marker, the world’s leading expert on cheetahs and founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), will speak at Dartmouth as part of the George Link Jr. Environmental Awareness Lecture series, convened by the Environmental Studies Program. Her lecture, “Saving the Wild Cheetah: A Race to the Future,” will take place on Thursday, May 3, at 7:00 p.m., at the Filene Auditorium in Moore Hall. The lecture is free and open to the public.
Once found on five continents, the cheetah is now an endangered species, with the wild population estimated to be less than 10,000 today. The cheetah is threatened by loss of habitat, conflict with humans, as well as its own loss of genetic variation. Despite being the fastest land mammal—able to reach speeds of up to 70 mph—it has weak jaws, small teeth and prefers flight over fight. This means the cheetah cannot fight larger predators to protect its kill or young.
Dr. Marker sold her possessions in 1990 to found CCF, and is traveling from her base in Namibia to speak to Dartmouth about the work she and the CCF have undertaken to save the cheetah. “Dr. Marker’s passion for the cheetah is unmatched. She has created ground-breaking strategies to save this species that are sustainable and permit the cheetah to remain in the wild. This marks a rare opportunity to hear firsthand how it is possible to confront an ecological problem with environmentally-beneficial solutions,” says Anne Kapuscinski, chair of the Environmental Studies Program and Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Sustainability Science.
Through the CCF, Dr. Marker has developed and implemented innovative and environmentally-friendly conservation methods for protecting cheetahs, including the Livestock Guarding Dog program, which has been helping save the cheetah since 1994. Although a protected species in Namibia, farmers are allowed to kill cheetahs when they come into conflict with humans or livestock. By providing Namibian farmers with livestock dogs, whose natural instincts to protect the flock complement the cheetah’s instinct for flight over fight, this non-lethal predator management strategy enhances the safety and security of both livestock and cheetahs.
Dr. Marker has received numerous awards for her work saving the cheetah. In 2000, she was recognized as one of TIME’s Heroes for the Planet and received the Zoological Society of San Diego’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. More recently, she was awarded in 2010 the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement and was a finalist for the BBC World Challenge. In Namibia, she received the Windhoek Rotary Club’s Paul Harris Fellowship in 2001, and in 2002 received a special award from the Sanveld Conservancy, signifying Namibia’s farming community’s public acknowledgement of Dr. Marker and CCF’s contributions.
Dr. Marker was raised in suburban Los Angeles, Calif. In 2002, she received her doctorate from Oxford University, England.