Cheetah expert visits Vashon

Dr. Laurie Marker - Courtesy photo
Dr. Laurie Marker
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Cheetahs are the world’s fastest animal, traveling up to 68 miles per hour in pursuit of their prey. But without humans’ help, the big cats could be running out of time.

The feline predators are no match for poachers and farmers who fear for their livestock’s safety.

Dr. Laurie Marker — founder of a conservation fund aiming to save the imperiled cheetah — will visit Vashon next Thursday to discuss the efforts of her 20-year-old nonprofit in Namibia, which has worked with Namibians and others to help them live in peace with their cheetah neighbors. Islanders Dr. Kim Farrell and John Cornelison will share photographs of wildlife and landscapes from their recent trip to Namibia on Thursday as well.

One of the world’s foremost cheetah experts and an award-winning conservationist, Marker has developed several programs to help preserve the cheetah population in Namibia — the largest population anywhere in the world — and in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Iran.

“She has taken on a formidable task of saving an endangered predator from extinction,” said Islander Ellen Kritzman, a friend of Marker’s who helped secure the conservationist’s visit to Vashon next week. “She is world recognized.”

The Cheetah Conservation Fund has helped farmers fend off cheetah predation by giving farmers herd dogs that scare the cheetahs. Marker and her fund have rescued cheetahs from the wild and given those who could not be returned to the wild a safe place to live their lives. And Marker has worked to create land conservancies in Namibia where cheetahs can roam freely.

The cheetah, said Kritzman, is a beautiful creature.

“I think it’s a magnificent animal, and it’s a unique kind of cat,” she said. “It’s the speediest animal on earth, but to be driven off or killed off by others, it’s had a hard time making a living.”

Farrell said she was enchanted by the cheetahs she met when taking a tour of the Cheetah Conservation Fund headquarters.

“When (Marker) called them, these three 1-year-olds came over, and when they came up they purred,” Farrell said, noting it was much louder than her cat’s purrs. “They’re beautiful. They’re fascinating. They’re amazing creatures, and they purr.”

Marker’s accomplishments include a long list of awards, including the 2010 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, an award once bestowed upon chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall.

Marker’s work has made a difference in Namibia and beyond. The population of cheetahs is about 10,000 strong, and some estimates 15 years ago pinpointed the cheetah’s year of extinction at 2015. But thanks to the work of Marker and the Cheetah Conservation Fund, the majestic cats continue to thrive in their natural habitat.

“Laurie Marker is a pretty phenomenal woman, really fascinating and charismatic and creative in terms of how she’s thought to problem-solve and save this endangered species,” Farrell said.

Meet Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, and see photos from Islanders Kim Farrell and John

Cornelison’s trip to Africa at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 13, in the Land Trust Building. The event is free, but donations for the Cheetah Conservation Fund are welcomed.

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