Dr Laurie Marker, CCF Founder

Dr Laurie Marker

For many of you Dr Laurie Marker may be a familiar name, but for others our Founder’s name may be new. Since starting CCF 30 years ago, Dr Marker’s dedication to saving cheetahs has made a huge impact on the survival of this endangered big cat, using her innovative, creative conservation techniques and endless determination. For those of you who are new to the name Dr Laurie Marker, here’s a bit more information to share how our organisation was started, who by and why.

Dr Laurie Marker

Laurie Marker is a research scientist and conservation biologist recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on the cheetah. As Founder and Executive Director of Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), D. Marker has pioneered research, established conservation models and created cooperative alliances on behalf of the cheetah that had not before existed. Under her leadership, CCF has grown into a world-class cheetah research, education and conservation institution situated near Otjiwarongo, Namibia, on a 142,000-acre, integrated wildlife-livestock reserve and Model Farm. In July of 2020, CCF will celebrate its 30th anniversary, making it the longest running cheetah conservation programme in the world.

Dr Marker began working with cheetahs at Oregon’s Wildlife Safari (1974-1988), where she developed the most successful captive cheetah breeding programme in North America. In 1977, she initiated a first-of-its-kind research project in cheetah rewilding in Namibia. She hypothesized that a captive-born cub could be taught to hunt and tested this theory with Khayam, a young cheetah she raised from birth. Dr Marker brought Khayam to Africa and successfully taught her how to hunt, but more importantly, she discovered livestock farmers in Namibia were trapping or removing hundreds of cheetahs each year. The farmers viewed cheetah as worthless vermin and a threat to their livelihoods. Cheetahs hunt by day, and in Namibia, more than 90 percent live on farmlands. Because cheetahs were observed by farmers, they were being blamed for livestock losses even though they were likely not responsible. This set the stage for her career-long research into cheetah ecology, biology and conservation strategies to mitigate human-wildlife conflict.

Dr Marker travelled back and forth from the U.S. for the next 13 years, gathering data from cheetah range countries and forming a network to begin cheetah conservation strategies. Already a species in peril because of shrinking habitat and lack of genetic diversity, as discovered during Dr Marker’s early genetic research, livestock farmers’ actions were driving the cheetah even closer toward extinction and at an accelerated pace. After more than a decade of transnational commuting, Dr Marker gave up her role as Executive Director of the Centre for New Opportunities in Animal Health Sciences at the Smithsonian Institution (NOAHS, 1988-1991), and relocated to Namibia, dedicating her life to the long-term sustainability of the species.

In 1990, determined to end the conflict, Dr Marker moved to Namibia and drove door- to-door in an old Land Rover talking with farmers. These interactions inspired Dr Marker to develop highly effective, non-lethal predator control methods that have dramatically reduced conflict between livestock farmers and carnivores in Namibia. In mitigating this conflict, Dr Marker also stabilized the wild cheetah population of Namibia and helped develop cheetah conservation programmes in Kenya, Botswana, South Africa and Iran, where the last remaining members of the Asiatic subspecies are found.

Initially rebuffed by Namibians fearing change, Dr Marker’s rigorous scientific research, creative conservation programmes, and unique holistic philosophy, have gained her the respect of an entire nation. The vital information she’s assembled on cheetah health, reproduction, ecology and genetics – taken along with the nearly 1,000 cheetahs she has worked on and the 5000-plus blood and tissue samples she has collected in the field over the past three decades – has proven invaluable in the management of both wild and captive cheetah populations the world over.

Dr Marker has worked throughout the cheetah’s range and helped develop programmes in many countries. Currently Dr. Marker is working actively in Somaliland to stop the trafficking in live cheetah cubs from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East. She has created facilities for cheetahs caught up in the illegal pet trade that were confiscated by the government of Somaliland, and she is developing strategies to address the root causes of threats to cheetah in the Horn region.

Dr Marker earned her DPhil in Zoology from the University of Oxford in the UK. She has published more than 135 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals and four books on the cheetah. In 2015, she was recognized with an Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal Award, an E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Award, and the Ulysses S. Seal Award for Innovation in Conservation. In 2014, she was named an A.D. White Professor- at-Large with Cornell University, where she lectures for a week in residence at the campus in Ithaca, New York, every other year. Dr Marker has been awarded the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010), The Tech Museum of Innovation’s Intel Environmental Prize (2008) and is a two-time finalist for the prestigious Indianapolis Prize. She was named a Hero for the Planet by TIME Magazine and has been featured in Smithsonian, National Geographic, Discover and The New York Times, as well as on numerous television shows, including, CNN’s Inside Africa, The Tonight Show, Larry King Live, The Charlie Rose Show and Today.

On October 2020, Dr Marker will receive The President’s Award for Conservation from Explorers Club alongside Jane Goodall in New York City. This marks only the second time in club history this honour will be given, with Dr Marker and Dr Goodall being only the fourth and fifth persons to ever receive it and the first two women.

Find out more about CCF’s conservation work

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