Running with Earthwatchers Who Run with Cheetahs

I’m amazed at how much great work goes on at the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s (CCF) research and education center in Namibia—we get so many exciting updates from them it can be hard to keep up without a cheetah’s speed.

But Earthwatch volunteers have indeed kept pace with Dr. Laurie Marker and all of CCF’s dedicated staff for years through the Cheetah Conservation in Namibia expedition. Earthwatchers help CCF accomplish what once seemed impossible: saving the cheetah from extinction in a land where 90% of them live on farmlands and have traditionally been in conflict with humans. Managing human/wildlife conflict is one of the most important challenges facing environmental conservation today, so it’s always incredibly gratifying to read the reports from CCF and the evaluations from Earthwatch volunteers who’ve been there, to see that people are out there getting it done, and done right.

Eleanor York (Carmarthenshire, UK) in the green Earthwatch shirt, helps in the CCF lab. Also pictured is Earthwatcher Christine Kozera (2nd from left), from New South Wales, Australia. Photo courtesy of Cheetah Conservation Fund.

It’s also easy to get a bit jealous, sitting here in my office in (lovely!) Boston reading that recent teams of Earthwatch volunteers on this expedition have gotten to:

  • help attach a radio tracking collar to a wild male cheetah named “Hi Fi” and observe his health check up close in the CCF labs;
  • spot multiple species on the monthly game counts that allow researchers to evaluate the overall health of the cheetahs’ habitat;
  • assist with the “re-wilding” process for four male cheetahs in a “training camp;”
  • set up and monitor camera traps, one of which caught an image of a civet, very rare for the area;
  • care for the Livestock Guarding Dog puppies that CCF raises and trains so that local farmers have non-lethal means of protecting their livelihoods;
  • encounter a herd of eland antelope grazing with small calves, and manage to photograph and count them all.

I’m sure that last one was no easy task, under the Namibian sun, with these alert, graceful animals. Whenever I need to give examples to friends or family of the great value of “citizen science volunteers,” stories like this one come to mind. It’s through this kind of effort, requiring many sets of eyes and many sets of hands working to collect accurate data, that Earthwatchers so often save researchers so much time in the field.

So, on the jealousy front: helping magnificent big cats up close, seeing a stunning African landscape, working side-by-side with dedicated and world-renowned researchers and conservationists, empowering local communities in sustainability, and…puppy time. I doubt it gets much better than that for a “vacation,” no matter how much great stuff you have to keep pace with in a given day.

Maybe you’ll be in some future report from CCF that provokes both admiration and a little envy in me. Teams will be running in May, June, and July—don’t miss out, because I’m told that like those on a cheetah, spots on this expedition tend to move fast.

A wild male cheetah that lives in the area around CCF, “Hi Fi,” is released after a wellness exam and being fitted with a new radio collar to help track his movements. (C) CCF.

Call 800-776-0188 (US) or +44 (0) 1865 318 831 (UK) or visit www.earthwatch.org (US) or www.earthwatch.org/europe (UK) for more information and get into the field with Earthwatch. 

Until next time, have fun unlocking your potential. And help us unlock the potential of this blog, too: use the comment section to let us know what you’d like to see here!

–George Grattan