International Women’s Day – Dr Laurie Marker

When we think about the great names in conservation and the environment, many female scientists and activists spring to mind – Dr Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, Dian Fossey, Dr Briuté Galdikas, Greta Thunberg, Jill Robinson, and our very own Dr Laurie Marker. These remarkable people deserve our celebration each day, but as today is International Women’s Day, we thought we’d take this opportunity to highlight our Founder and tireless cheetah conservationist, Dr Laurie Marker.

We always think there is someone else who will do something, that ‘they’ will take care of it. I realized early in my work that there is no ‘they,’ and so I decided that I would take action to save the cheetah from extinction.

Dr. Marker’s family resettled in Northern California in time for her to finish high school at age 16. She started college early, studying agriculture, oenology and viticulture in Napa, California. Dr. Marker moved north to become a pioneer of the Oregon wine industry. She started a winery and a small dairy goat farm, and to support her businesses, she began working at Wildlife Safari in 1974. Her main interest from the start was the cheetah, a species little was known about and not well understood. During her 16 years at Wildlife Safari, Dr. Marker helped develop the U.S. and international captive breeding programme for cheetahs (cheetah studbooks) and established the most successful captive cheetah-breeding programme in North America.

In 1977 during her first trip to South West Africa (Namibia), Laurie found that livestock farmers were catching hundreds of cheetahs in cage traps and killing them. Later, research and tracking showed that during the 1980’s, farmers had killed more than 7,000 cheetahs, cutting the country’s cheetah population in half.

In the 1980’s, Dr. Marker began collaborating with researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and the National Cancer Institute on groundbreaking research. They discovered the lack of genetic diversity in the species, including very poor sperm quality and disease suitability, both of which are contributing factors to the difficulties of captive breeding.

Dr. Marker and Khayam

Khayam was born on December 4, 1976 at Wildlife Safari. Laurie raised Khayam from a newborn cub, and together they traveled to South West Africa (now Namibia) in 1977. When the pair returned to the U.S. several months later following their successful research project, they traveled regionally and nationally making public appearances to generate awareness for the cheetah’s plight. Khayam served as the first ambassador animal for her species.

Cheetah Conservation Fund

Once she determined to create a cheetah research center, Dr. Marker investigated many locations across the cheetah’s range in Africa. After Namibia gained its independence in 1990, Dr. Marker decided to make this newly-formed country the base for her frontline conservation organization focused on saving the cheetah.

Dr. Marker left her job at the Smithsonian Institution’s New Opportunities and Animal Health Sciences (NOAHS) Center and moved to Namibia. She set up CCF in a simple farmhouse and bought an old Land Rover with funds she raised from the sale of her possessions.

After celebrating our 30th year in 2020, we’re working harder than ever to try and save the cheetah from extinction with our diverse array of conservation programmes that tackle threats to their survival at the source. With Dr Marker’s never-ending dedication, knowledge and innovation, the wild cheetah population has an invaluable champion. So, to Dr Marker and all of the other amazing female-identifying scientists, staff and volunteers on the CCF team…


Learn more about our conservation programmes.

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