June 16, 2009

Namibia Center Aims To Conserve Dying Cheetah Population

Volunteers at a conservation center in Namibia are working to protect endangered cheetahs, which are often killed by farmers because they are deemed threatening.

Namibia is home to the largest population of the world's fastest land animal.

Volunteers at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) are working to reverse recent downward population trends.

Leigh Whelpton, a CCF volunteer, told AFP of three cheetah cubs that were brought to the center by a farmer who had killed their mother.

"The farmer who killed it, noticed movement in the stomach of the cheetah, cut it open and found three perfectly shaped cubs in the womb, alive," she said.

The cubs now live at the center, but they will never be able to survive in the wild because humans raised them.

"They will be trained as cheetah ambassadors," Whelpton told AFP. "Visitors will be able to come close to these beautiful felines to learn more about conservation."

Numbers of cheetahs are dropping significantly in Africa, where about 100,000 lived two decades ago and less than 10,000 exist today.

"Namibia has the largest cheetah population in the world -- some 3,000 -- and 90 percent of them live on farms, and many farmers see them as a threat to their livestock and shoot them," said scientist Laurie Marker, who started CCF in 1990 on Elandsvreugde farm.

The CCF Center has since grown to be an international hub for cheetah research and conservation. Researchers conduct scientific research and publish papers on a range of issues such as cheetah genetics, biology, ecology and species survival.

Conservationists also develop plans to test and promote alternative land-management practices such as conservancy development, and eco-tourism.

"We believe in science-based conservation, that is why research is important," Marker told AFP.

Marker said that an important program at the center involves the training of Anatolian shepherd dogs called Kangals for farmers to help guard livestock from being attacked by cheetahs.

"We now breed them locally and over 350 dogs are now on farms and that greatly reduces losses to farmers," said Marker.


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