ALEX TRAVIS: It's my great privilege today to introduce Dr. Laurie Marker, recipient of one of Cornell's highest honors, that of holding the title of Andrew Dickson White Professor-at-Large. There's a saying in writing that you should never bury your lead. So I'll start really with the conclusion of my introduction. And that's Dr. Marker is really one of the most outstanding examples of what one person can do when they recognize a problem and then dedicate themselves to solving that. Really, never taking, no, you can't do that as an answer or restricting yourself in any way, and never being afraid of reinventing herself to tackle new challenges when she identifies a need that needs to be addressed.
And I could take most of the rest of the hour really summarizing her very impressive CV. But I'll restrict myself to just a few highlights. She got her start actually by operating a vineyard, where she started working with goats also, I think. And then decided to move over more to wildlife, working at Wildlife Safari in Oregon, where she started working with cheetahs. From there, she moved to the Smithsonian, where she was executive director of the NOAH Center at the National Zoo. And recognizing the plight of the cheetah, she then founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia in 1990.
Now, Dr. Marker has literally changed the field of wildlife conservation by thinking outside the box on how to deal with and reduce human wildlife conflict and then really continuing to innovate in that area in new approaches by never shying away from the underlying human element that really is such a driver for the problems that are facing wildlife. For this work, she's been asked to wear many, many hats. She serves on the advisory council of the conservation organization Panthera. She is on the IUCN Cat Specialist Core Group and advises Namibia on several different regional levels in terms of sustainable development and ecotourism.
Dr. Marker has won numerous awards, including being a Rainier Arnhold Fellow, winning the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement and being named a Hero for the Planet by Time Magazine. And along the way, she's found time to document her work scientifically in over 60 publications.
And before passing the microphone over to Dr. Marker, I'll say that after her presentation, if you will exit through this door, you'll find some information on the Cheetah Conservation Fund in terms of brochures. And also Dr. Marker will be available for a book signing. She's recently published a book, which you can also see. And there'll be a table set up right outside this store. So I'd invite you after this seminar to come out this way. And with that, I'll turn this over now to Dr. Laurie Marker.
LAURIE MARKER: Well, thank you very much. And it's been a fun week. It looks like I still have Skype calls coming in. So I hope that not too much else pops up on my computer.
And it's a huge honor to be here with all of you, throughout many of the different cross-curricular groups that I've talked with. But I'm here primarily because Alex likes cheetahs. And it's always nice to have cheetah friends. I have a cheetah friend right here.
So always bring your cheetah with you. And if you can't, talk about them everywhere you go. So thank you for the very nice introduction as well.
I'm going to try to put everything in a nutshell. I've talked to different groups on different things that we do. But I'd like to kind of go through why we do some of these as well.
So to give you an idea of what the global challenges are facing the cheetah; and then from that, the conservation research activities that we're involved in to try to help find a future for the cheetah; and solutions which are long term. And I think that's a long point or a point of this. I've been working with cheetahs about 40 years. So that's fairly long term. And I've been in Namibia and set up the Cheetah Conservation Fund, as of next year, 25 years.
The cheetah is the fastest of all the land animals. And most people do know that. It's the most unique of all the 37 species of cat. And every part of the body of the cheetah is built for speed. And with that, it's not a powerful and aggressive animal. It's a sprinter and can only go fast for very short distances.
The cheetah is very unique. And some of our early research in the early '80s showed that the cheetah is genetically uniform. That means that all the cheetahs look very similar. And we believe that they went through a population bottleneck around 12,000 to 15,000 years ago at the fifth extinction, or the Pleistocene extinction. Just to remember, today we are in about the sixth extinction. And our research or people are now presenting in the past-- ah, since the '70s, we've lost about 50% of the world's population of wildlife.
But the cheetah escaped this extinction. And when it did, it left it very compromised. We found reproductive abnormalities, as in the sperm that's on you're right, with two tails and four heads, which is not something that normal sperm would look like. And that's what we see in about 70%, 80% of all cheetahs everywhere.
And lacking genetic diversity shows them being susceptible to diseases as well, more so than many of the other animals. And also, it reduces the ability for them to adapt, especially in a fast-changing world, as we are today, with climate change.
So I came to Namibia, first in the early 1970s. And I kept returning to Africa. And in the 1990s, when I actually sold all of my worldly belongings, which got me enough money to buy this old Land Rover. And I had left my job at the Smithsonian because I knew that there were a lot of challenges.
And I kept talking to people around the world and saying somebody's got to save the wild cheetah. And when nobody did, I said, well, I guess I'm going to have to go do something. And that's try to figure out why people were killing cheetahs.
What was happening is every time I kept going to Africa, cheetahs were caught in catch cages like this. And farmers would tell me how many they'd killed. And I thought, is it a real loss to livestock or is it a perceived threat and something that we as humans do to not only cheetahs, but we hate predators everywhere?
As I started talking more with farmers, and explaining to them that there's really an important balance, is that actually top predators maintain the health of ecosystems. And they maintain the grasslands, at least cheetahs do, by weeding out the slow, and the dumb, and the stupid, and the weak, and the old, and the young and maintain the health of these herds that are on the African plains.
And so cheetahs are actually nature's doctors. They're farmers' friends. And the farmers would look at me and they'd say, how could they be? They kill livestock.
And yet actually, if they're killing the wildlife on the land, and there is wildlife and enough grass, and you actually manage your livestock, then the cheetahs are actually feeding the rest of the veld, the jackals, and the vultures, and everything in between. And so if the jackal is eating fine out in the veld, it's not going to go into your goat yard and eat your sheep and your goats.
But these are big complex situations that most people don't understand. I've been talking to many of the students in the last week, even trying to explain what biodiversity is on a farmer level is something we have high levels of thinking. But to bring it down home to these ecosystems I think and the people on the land is very important.
I'd like to just share with you a bit about the cheetah. They're very beautiful. A female lives on her own. She can have up to six cubs, four to five are most average. And she's alone with them. She has to nurse them, go out and hunt. And the cubs are very vulnerable.
Their eyes open at about 10 days of age. But usually, at that point in time, the mother is moving the cub from den to den to reduce any scent because she's gone most of the day hunting. And the cubs are very vulnerable at this point in time. To such an extent that we see, usually under the three-month point in time, a loss of about 90% of the cubs due to predation on them by jackals, lions, hyenas, and even, like, eagles.
And so raising cubs up to this age, at about three months of age, is a very difficult job. But also, it's all about numbers. So although everyone is concerned about the cubs, trying to get them to adulthood and to the point that their breeding is actually a very important part as well.
The female spends most of her time on the lookout, looking for prey to feed her cubs. And the cubs always want to look and be just like mom. And when they are tired of watching whatever mom's looking, and they don't really know what it is, then they start playing. And playing is something that fortunately the female has a tail. And the cubs spend a lot of their time playing with the mom's tail.
They start chasing and learning how to hunt with they're about eight months of age. The female brings the prey back. They learn trip their prey, chasing their prey.
As they grow up, they leave their mom, usually at about 18 months to two years of age. And males stick together their entire lives. So males form what are called coalitions. And males spend most of their time marking territory. And with that, they have smaller territories than females do. And females cover multiple males' territories.
And with that, comes many more of their challenges. Because they have such large home ranges, and they are not actually found in most of our protected areas, primarily because lions and hyenas steal their food and kill their young. So they're pushed out. And then they're living in lands where livestock farmers.
And throughout Africa, in the arid lands, in sub-Saharan Africa, where the cheetah populations are found, they're really found in areas where there are a high density of humans and their livestock. And then what happens with this livestock, which is trampling the ground, we end up actually having a lot of degradation of the land.
And we see land like this, that are open savannas and grassland savannas, that the cheetah is able to hunt in, become thickened thornbushed areas that cause problems for the cheetah to hunt. Imagine going 70 miles an hour through this thick bush. Well, the cheetah has a problem with it. But also, the wildlife has a problem getting through it. And the livestock can get lost in it and get lost from their herds. And with this, oftentimes predators will actually pick off the livestock that's in this thick bush. And then they get blamed for being problem animals.
And they can be problem animals. And we've actually documented what age animals, what sex and kinds of animals, whether it's with herders, with dogs, young calves. But with that, it doesn't matter whether it's a cheetah or any of the other predators, farmers usually kill these predators.
So these are the big challenges of trying to understand and work with the farming communities. And it's not their fault. It's their bank, their money in their bank. And yet, they say they don't really want to kill predators either. So how to make solutions to this?
Another problem facing the cheetah is that of the illegal trade. And these issues are getting to be even more of a big problem. For every one cub that might make it through the black market into somebody's backyard or a chicken coop pet-- and these are usually going into the Middle East, where the people are very, very rich-- usually five die. And if they make it to three months of age, they're lucky. They usually don't.
If they make it to two years, they're lucky. But most of them don't. And then they go right back out into the black market. And the process is causing a complete problem for these animals in the northern parts of Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia.
Just to look at the kinds of challenges that we're facing overlapping these of the cheetah, are that of the growing population of Africans. With today's population in sub-Saharan Africa being about 1.1 billion, by 2050 we're going to see about 2.4 billion, a doubling in a very short period of time.
And really what will Africa look like? What will it look like for the people and for the vision of what we have for the cheetah? And overlapping that, it's not only the numbers of people, but the number of livestock that they have. And their livestock is usually not very healthy.
This is where the cheetahs are found. And today, there are only about 10,000 cheetahs remaining. We had about a hundred thousand cheetahs a hundred years ago. And the red is where the cheetahs are found today.
I live down in Namibia, which is a country about 2.5 times the size of California. It has about a third of the world's remaining cheetahs, around 3,000 plus, out of a world population of 10,000. And going into Botswana, this is a very important population, which has probably half of the world's population.
The next most important being that of Kenya and Tanzania. And these other small pocketed of populations are very, very small. And they're remnant and fragmented. That causes them even greater problems, as a species that is genetically compromised.
So the farmers that I spent a lot of my time with, not only from Namibia, but working throughout all of their ranges-- and I've been to the majority of the cheetah range country-- is asking them what is the benefit of wildlife? And to them, their livestock is most important. And what value is conservation? They don't understand that conservation and ecosystem health really equals their health and that of biodiversity.
So cheetah survival really revolves around continually understanding the basic biology and understanding how the cheetah is living and monitoring it, and long-term studies. And then understanding the conflict then and educating and working with the farmers and stopping the illegal trade. And then looking at educating and the livelihoods of these rural communities. And so those are the three legs that our programs actually revolve around.
Bringing you back into Namibia, Namibia, like most African countries, the farming supports most of the Africans. And the area that I've got circled here is the area that's primarily where cheetahs are found. 90% of our cheetahs are found outside of protected areas. 90% of all the 10,000 cheetahs remaining are found outside of protected areas. So even though Africa has a lot, and these red areas are our nature reserves. And throughout Africa, there are only about 10 game reserves large enough to maintain a viable population of cheetahs.
In Namibia, this is the Sand Coast Park. And up here, we've got endemic anthrax. And so the cheetahs don't live in our largest national park.
In Namibia, it's also very different than most countries. 80% of our wildlife is not found in those red areas. They're found on private farmlands. And these are areas that people in Namibia have learned to love their wildlife. So these are important issues when we looked at managing a long-term population of cheetahs. So what I did when I first got to Namibia 25 years ago was I went door to door and worked with the farming communities to find out what their problems were, sharing with them the problems facing the cheetah, and asking for solutions to work together to save the cheetah.
So this is what our research area actually looks like. This red area is obviously in black, where the cheetahs are found most. The black area is when I went door to door and talked to all the farmers to understand their farmland systems, how the cheetahs actually-- not just cheetahs, how they were farming their livestock, their goats, their cattle, where their wildlife was, where the water was. And the red is where cheetahs were if they were caught in those catch cages, where I could go in and opportunistically collect samples on them, collecting blood, tissues, doing necropsies, and fecal samples. And so our research area became very, very important.
Overlapping it was where the livestock is. This area is pulled aside here. And this is where all of our radiotelemetry work took place, where we started to get to know what that land looked like, and studying the habitat and the prey underneath, where we knew the cheetahs were living.
So that's sort of our research area. But what really are we? What is Cheetah Conservation Fund? It is the leading organization dealing with saving the wild cheetah. And we're situated on a 100,000-acre model farm, where we farm our cattle, goats, and sheep, and not just say, we are conservationists. We like cheetahs. We walk the walk and talk the talk.
And we're in the middle of where the largest remaining population of cheetahs are. We're a sanctuary. So sadly, although I don't want to have cheetahs in captivity, we get orphans that come in. And I have 40 cheetahs there right now.
So I mentioned we're a model farm. And so we practice good livestock management. And we teach that to farming communities. We've got a genetics lab.
We have a veterinary clinic. And we're a training facility. We've got a goat creamery. And we're also an open-to-the-public research center.
So understanding the biology of the cheetah basically was how I got into Namibia. Was that, as we learned about the cheetahs, and I ran a wildlife park in Oregon for about 16 years, and was one of the only places in the world really breeding cheetahs. And then developed what's called a stud book and a species survival plan, working with zoo partners.
But what we didn't know was that-- well, we knew that cheetahs didn't breed well in captivity. We knew that they didn't have a very long lifetime. And we knew that they were sick. But we didn't know what a healthy, free-ranging wild cheetah looked like.
So that really started a lot of the work that I wanted to do, is to understand more about what these animals looked like. So over the last nearly 25 years, I've had my hands on over 900 cheetahs, systematically collected samples on them.
Male cheetahs, we've been able to actually bank down, at best practice, their sperm. We've developed a genome resource bank in collaboration with our partners from the Smithsonian. And the work that we've studied, the wild cheetahs, has helped our partners grow the longevity of cheetahs in captivity and understand much more about their diseases.
So these slides up here show a little bit about our clinic. Our liquid nitrogen tank is where our genetic samples are also kept. And we also have done a lot of work with basic biology. And we've got the only blastocyst stage embryo that's actually been ever made. And it's banked in Namibia, as well.
I'd like to also point out that I love our microscope, which we use lot in our reproductive physiology work. But all of the work that we do is done without grid electricity. We're 25 miles off of the grid. And so we have to make all of our power for all the work that we do.
Now, as a sanctuary, about 20% of the animals that we've had our hands on are not able to go back out in the wild. They come in as orphan cubs. And we have to raise them up.
And that means over time, we've actually had to develop huge enclosures. Our diet has been very, very important in understanding good health care and sharing that with other people, and the proper amount of calcium, and then lots of exercise. So all of our animals are exercised. And we feel that that's a very important part of reducing stress factors, which are probably linked into some of the different diseases that we've actually studied.
I want to introduce you to Bruce Brewer, right here. He's a, he said I think, a 1988 PhD graduate from Cornell. And he's our Operations Manager. He did his PhD in population genetics. And he's actually, for the last 16 years, helped develop all of the facilities and worked right hand-in-hand with me.
Those are a couple of our favorite orphans. And we have to take care of orphans, usually a few year, that, if they come in as a bottle baby, you have to hand raise them. And they will never be able to go back out into the wild. But for the last 10 years, we've developed programs. And we've put about 40 of our orphan cats, that are not bottle-raised animals, back out into the wild.
Over the years, we've spent a lot of time with radiotelemetry, now satellite collars, understanding the movements of the cheetahs, working with the farming community so they understand how the cheetahs are moving through their landscape. And just sharing with you a bit about what kind of landscape a cheetah needs. Our radiotelemetry studies show us that they need very, very large areas, over 800 square miles in a range.
I like this range right here because it's red and I can see it nicely. Each one of these white squares inside, or each one of these, are farms of about 10,000 acres. So a normal cheetah is covering about 10 to 20 farms those sizes.
We've been able to put several hundred cheetahs back out into the wild. We not only track them from ground, but mostly we were tracking them from air. And now, fortunately, through satellites.
We also have another part of our research that we've overlapped with our radiotelemetry. And that's the use of camera traps. And Matti Nghikembu, who is here, has got a camera trap set up here. And Matti has been our star biologist. He's our chief ecologist and has been with us for over 16 years, in helping train people from around the world in some of the basic ecology work and forestry work that we're involved in.
Cheetahs like trees. So they go to trees. They mark trees. Most trees are built right for cheetahs to get into. They like a sloping trunk. And these trees are called play trees.
And they go to these trees. Males go there. They leave their scat, their urine. Females bring their cubs there to scent and smell and find out which males are there. And females cover multiple males home ranges.
Now, I'd like to just show you what a day in a life of a camera trap and a play tree looks like. They're kind of fun. We go through thousands of camera trap photos. And every cheetah does have its different spot pattern. So we can identify the different cheetahs at these different play trees. There was a brown hyena and a leopard that went through at the same time, or different times of the day, as cheetahs and all these other prey species.
So we monitor and we study each one of these. And they all go into a massive database and then we analyze it. So the camera trap studies have been going on with us for several years. But I always think it's fun to figure out what it is that we're seeing at these play trees.
Now, we've had our hands on hundreds of animals and many of them multiple times. So thousands of samples have been collected. And fortunately, the farmers are killing and catching less cheetahs. And with that, we're still covering these very large areas, that we still want more samples.
So we've employed scat detection dogs. And these dogs are well-trained. They're hyperactive. They like their ball. If they find scat, they get to play with their ball. And they'll work for hours and hours.
So they are our ecologists. We've got a border collie, a springer spaniel, and a 3/4 Anatolian shepherd, all trained to do different things with our scat. Two of them are bush dogs. And the Anatolian, when the scat comes in, she will tell us whether it's leopard scat-- no, she won't. She will just sit and tell us if it's cheetah scat. Because it could be overlaid with leopard or jackal. So she just selects cheetah scat for us.
And then these samples, we primarily put through our genetics lab. Although we also look at prey selection by burning the hairs, and into a slide, and looking at them under a microscope, and can tell what the cheetah's actually eaten. We've used them for hormone studies as well. And this is important when we look at the wild population and even parasitology.
But they come primarily into our genetics lab. And this is Fabiano, who's on the left, and Anne. Anne is our main geneticist. And she's also a veterinarian. But her skills, she'd say, are better used in the lab. Fabiano just finished his PhD. And he's probably one of the brightest Africans, one of the brightest people I know in the world.
His title is a quantitative scientist. And he just loves modeling. But he has been trained in ecology and in genetics. And he spends a lot of his time training now.
And we're now taking much of our work up into areas like Angola because that's an area-- Fabiano is Angolan. And we're trying to develop extensive studies up there to find out more about the cheetah and other carnivore populations.
But as the scat comes in, DNA is extracted. And it goes through our gene sequencer, which we just a few weeks ago got a brand new four-capillary machine from ThermoFisher Fisher Scientific. And the scat, overlaid with that of the camera trap, shows the different fingerprinting of the different animals using different microsatellite. So that's the fun and pictures that we get once we start doing all of this extensive research.
We have, as I mentioned, used some of our cheetahs that have come through our center and have put them back out in the wild. And reintroduction is something that is very, very difficult, rehabilitation of taking orphans. And once these orphans-- oh, good. See I told you somebody-- just putting it back out into the wild is a very, very difficult process.
So they're not bottle-raised cats. But we get animals that are six or eight months of age and kind of hate us. And we put them out in 200-acre camps. And they get to grow up. And from there, they have exercise because we're exercising them regularly.
And they're in their environment. And then we put them out in a 8,000-acre training camp, where you stick with them for up to several months. But usually, they'll start learning how to hunt after a week or two. But in the meantime, we're supplementally feeding them. And they're learning about the area around.
And as they start learning how to hunt, then they want nothing to do with us. And I just got word today that we have a female with her cub out. She gave birth out there. And our staff is now coming back to CCF because, he said, he can't really watch her anymore because every time she gets close, they keep moving further and further away, which is what you want.
So we've been asked to look at reintroductions to a place like India or Uzbekistan, were the cheetahs have been extinct. But then we have to look at making sure that there's habitat, and prey, and no conflict with humans. But we've reestablished populations in the southern part of Namibia, where the cheetahs have been extinct for up to 60 years.
So I'm sort of laying out kind of where the problems are for the cheetah, and what kind of land use planning we're going to need if we're going to grow these populations, and how our research has been so important in trying to lead into conservation. And what we do has been to develop a Future Farmers training program for our communal farmers. And this has now gone into other countries of Africa, as well.
But really what we want is healthier livestock, a higher value, and less of them. And we want to help develop skills within the communities that are teaching that of the basics of ecology and good health sciences of their animals, and then looking at reducing predator conflict as well.
And we're trying to scale up these programs. And we're trying to look at ways that we can get the villagers to be more organized in the way that they're doing things. Maybe they can, as a unit, buy large numbers of vaccine and then go into maybe a small business, where the women are maybe selling the vaccines at 10 or 12 for theirs. And keeping them in a refrigerator if they can find ways of having electricity. And then looking at co-ops and rotational grazing. So these are the kinds of things that we're working towards.
We then also overlay this with having dogs that we've been raising for now about 20 years. They're an Anatolian shepherd and a Kangal dog. They're a large breed. They've been used for about 5,000 years in Turkey to protect livestock from these predators.
And they grow up with the flocks. And they act as a guardian by barking loudly and protecting their flock. We've got them throughout Namibia. And in the last years, we've placed and bred-- bred and placed-- about 500 of the dogs.
And so when the dogs are out there, the kids are's really the ones that get to love them. But I always point out that this is the age group of kids that should be in schools. And oftentimes, these kids are the ones that are actually taking care of their family's herds. Which if they do see predators, then there's a high loss.
And if can bring the dogs in there, the dogs can grow up with the livestock, not the kids. And the kids can go back out to school. And then we can start a different level of education.
So we place lots of dogs. With that, we have breeding dogs. We have lots of breeding dogs. And with that, we have to have, have to have, lots of goats. So we have several hundred head of goats and sheep.
And with that, they were mostly Boer goats, which is what you eat. And I had a goat dairy years back in the United States and actually used to travel in this country and judge people's goats. And I thought maybe we should layer on dairy goats into this because we could then maybe see if there is some value added.
I just want to point out we just had three litters of puppies the last few months. They were just spayed, and neutered, and placed in the last couple weeks. And then we had another litter of puppies born just about a week ago.
So our process of sending these dogs out, raising them, we've got a two-year waiting list. But we've been able to place dogs now and help places in South Africa. And our most recent dogs are going to be going off into Tanzania, where last year we put a group of dogs there. But we're trying to help grow partners' programs as well.
So added value. And that looks at kind of livestock production. And we don't really have a lot of grass that looks like this. And those are European goats. But I ended up with six dairy goats about five years ago.
And I love goat milk. And not only do I love goat milk, just think of it. Yogurt, and the cheeses, and ice cream that can be made with that amount of milk. And the people in our area of Namibia said, what are you talking about, goat milk?
So we thought maybe we could have some objectives on why we have this diary. We want to support raising our livestock guarding dogs. So we need more goats. And it could then support our dog program.
Because it's very, very expensive to travel all around Namibia and work with the farmers. And we work with them at six months, and 12 months, and 18 months as they're growing their flocks up. So we could possibly make a product using the goats, like cheeses. We could provide employment and teach good hygiene and health care. And teach more people about the values of goats by transferring these skills as well.
And so I started talking to Alex. And we started to talk over the telephone first. And then I said, you really should come down.
And I've got all these complex issues. We need proper care of the goats. And we need to make good cheese. Our cheeses didn't look very good then. And we've got different diets that have to be looked at for the goats.
And then we were also looking at this thick thornbush stuff. It's causing problems for cheetahs. And Alex actually came down and brought a team from Cornell. And now, I'm here with you. And that was about four years ago actually, believe it or not.
So we've now looked at proper diets. And our dairy goats are doing well. We've come up with new diets. They're different than just the thornbush that's out there. But easy diets, that farmers could actually get and use.
And then we're actually growing our herd. From six goats, we now are milking 23 goats. And I have 48 dairy goat does, that we're now looking at how we can grow that population, keep our milk going constantly. And we're looking at adding some indigenous blood in. So that possibly the ticks and the diseases would not be as strong, be effecting some of these European dairy goat animals.
This is what our creamery looks like now, in the fact that we have a logo. It's called Dancing Goat because our goats are happy. They're protected by livestock guarding dogs, which are saving cheetahs.
And from that, my staff here are really, really important. Tyapa is our lead manager in our goat yard. He's from our Polytech, as a agriculture graduate.
He trains rural farmers in good livestock care. He also works with the dogs and goes out works with the farmers in growing their dog. And we've got more communities that want to think about having dairy goats. So we've been placing dairy goats out in some of these rural areas, where there is a dog, where they want training.
Sherien is our cheesemaker. She has been with us for around 10 years. She's illiterate. She makes the best cheese I think there is in the world, especially after having some training from Matt, from Cornell, and continues to do a great job.
And this is Hanlie. And Hanlie is actually from food services in South Africa. She's married to our assistant farm manager. She's a pastry chef. And what she's done is brought her best cooking skills, intermixed it with our best cheeses, is experimenting with different cheeses, and cooks food in our cafe, that we sell, that's all laced with goat milk, including some of the best ice cream there is.
And so these are now what some of our cheeses look like. And I would not have wanted to necessarily share with you what they looked like before. But they're beautiful. And we've now developed a market. And our market is with our local store in Windhoek. It's with lodges. And again, we're selling at our own cafe.
So habitat is important, as I showed you with the early pictures that overgrazing of the land from the livestock has caused a lot of degradation of the land. So the habitats change. And that's changed actually where a lot of the prey is.
And if there's a predator, you have to have prey. Otherwise, they will eat your livestock. We don't want them to eat their livestock.
And these farming practices have actually changed how habitats work. And in Namibia, it's been about a hundred years, from our open grassland savannahs, to this very, very thickened thornbush area.
And our thorns are very, very long. They're very damaging. And our area that is thickly thornbushed is approximately the size of California, or roughly 26 million hectors.
And what has caused the impact really is the productivity of the land has declined. The numbers of livestock are half of what it used to be because the grasslands are no longer there. The thick bush is there. And there's nothing for the cattle to eat.
And it's affected our economy by over $100 million US per year. And from that, we've seen a change in the biodiversity in Namibia. And this story is a Namibian story. However, we've seen the same problem where cheetahs are in areas like Botswana, areas in Kenya. And these are really big problems that are facing these communities.
To give you an idea what our bush looks like, most of the bush might be around this tall. Sometimes, it's twice that high. And the root system is just taking up all the water. And that's what forms and has caused desertification.
It's drinking the water. And so the grasses aren't able to grow. And they've got very, very deep roots. So from this, it's called desertification, not just sand land. We have bush land. And we call it bush encroachment.
So we started a program to start looking at habitat restoration. Just wrapping my head around this years ago, the farmers would say we need twice as much land for half as many cattle. And so with that, we're killing more predators.
And I thought, well, what would it look like if we harvested the bush? What would the biodiversity look like? What does it look like now?
And so our studies have continued with our Polytech and University of Namibia students to understand the biodiversity. And then we thought, oh, how would you harvest it? If you harvest it, what kind of tonnage of bush do you get? How do you actually chip it? What kind of a chipper will-- it's a hard wood as well.
And we figured this out. And we figured out that we get about 10 tons per hectare on a very thinning harvest. So not a clear cut, but on a thinning harvest.
And this is Bruce Brewer again. And he runs and manages our bush walk and habitat restoration program. And we thought years ago that we could make something. And that something is a fuel log.
I also want to state that we are Forest Stewardship Council certified, which is the highest level of forest protection. Because the people that we're putting to work have jobs. They're not subsistence, charcoal burner, really poor people.
They're paid a minimum wage. They have jobs. They get safety clothing. That's all what FSC expects.
And not only is our bush harvesting plant Forest Stewardship Council certified, but our whole operation is. And FSC is the highest level of forest protection. And certification I think is an extremely important part of what our story is all about.
So we then took these 10 tons per hectare and put it through what we call an extrusion process. And we started making a fuel log. And this fuel log is called Bushblok. And it's a high heat, low emission, very heavy log, very, very dense. And we've gotten a lot of awards for our Bushblok log.
But we thought this isn't going to get us very far if we've got an area the size of California to thin out. Could we not figure out a way to actually scale up? So right now, through the work that we've done, we've tried to engage the government and institutions, like you here, into looking at the potential of biomass power.
And the benefits of the industry we know can create more jobs. And it can also improve habitat. And then our founding president of Namibia, who is our international patron, said, well, that means we'll be more land for livestock. And there will be more prey. And then, Laurie, you can have more cheetahs.
So there is a definite point of why we want to restore the habitat. But also to try to find ways that we maybe could use this biomass to help our communities. Namibia is a country that doesn't have a lot of electricity. And our rural communities don't have any. Most of the rural communities in Africa don't have electricity.
So we're trying to figure out a way that we could actually look at maybe woodchip or pellet production. This would be instead of going out and just taking charcoal, which is not good. Looking at power plants, small plants, that maybe could power a small village, or larger plants that could maybe power our whole research institution, or even power small communities. So right now, that's the kind of potential. And those are the things that we're looking at.
I want to go into another area, of now we've cleared the land and we've got this vision of what it looks like to maybe power communities. And the idea of where wildlife again fits in is we've cleared the land and we've protected our livestock and managed it. We've now developed conservancies. And conservancies are where neighboring farmers work together and have integrated systems of where there's livestock protected and wildlife. And then actually, people can have a lot more diversity in what their livelihoods could be.
So I've helped be a part of the Conservancy Initiative. We're a part of what's called the Wild Water Bird Conservancy. Today, about 40% of Namibia is in Conservancy land.
Now, the earlier map I showed you, the wildlife parks were in red. Here, they are in green. This brown area are what are called communal conservancies. These dotted areas are called commercial conservancies. And so 40% of our land is in privately held conservancies, that don't have game fences.
The animals are free ranging. They're free ranging over where people are managing their livestock. And so this is an important part of what the Conservancy Initiative is.
We can have better land use. We can actually manage these wildlife populations. In Namibia, we have a sustainable harvest or we utilize our wildlife. And that means, instead of poaching wildlife, we grow our wildlife, count it, and then have an off-take. And that can go into our rural communities as well. So they have meat to eat.
And there is a value of having the wildlife. So we don't have poaching that's going on in Namibia. And with this, if there's wildlife and you protect your livestock, then predators can be a part of the system. And then you are open up to ecotourism. And an organization that I helped chair, or I chaired for years, was the Conservancy Association of Namibia.
The benefits to our communities-- and I only want you to look at a couple of things here. I hate graphs like this. At independence, none of the communal areas have wildlife. The wildlife was put on the land and the animal populations are growing. Namibia's probably the only country in the world that can talk about growing wildlife populations.
And the communities started getting benefits. And these are the kinds of benefits communities are getting from having wildlife in dollars and cents because tourism is coming in and also through actually having meat that they can eat.
Now, just to simplify things, these are some of the kinds of pictures we work with with our rural communities. But I find that in America, pictures are helpful as well. Because after I've gotten done talking about conservancies people say, well, if you protect your livestock, what are the cheetahs going to eat?
Conservancies are about integrated systems. So you have your livestock, your cattle, goats, and sheep. They're eating grass. And you've grown enough grass because you know you want wildlife. And then the wildlife is sprinkled in where your livestock is.
And predators are not wanton livestock-catching animals. They don't want to go eat our livestock. They would rather eat the wildlife that they've evolved with. And so if you protect your livestock, and there's wildlife there, the cheetahs, and all the other predators, would rather have their wild species of prey to eat.
Now, I just want to have you think a little bit about livestock farming. Are there any livestock farmers here today? I'm an old livestock farmer. I'm a new livestock farmer. Well, I've been raising livestock my whole life.
But do we actually think about where our beef comes from or our lamb and how is it produced? And so just to kind of think about that. And that's kind of me and my next door neighbor kind of talking about what our meat industry looks like in Namibia.
But a lot of people I know here in America and Europe are going vegetarian. But there's still a lot of people who do like a good T-bone steak. I do. In Africa, we're not going to become vegetarians very soon.
And just to think about how good, and tasty, and tender it is. But now, kids, you might want to close your eyes on this one. I'm sorry. I'm just going to layer in what if you thought and knew that all of the meat that you're eating was actually contaminated with predator blood, not just cheetahs'? But that of all the coyotes, and that of the wolves, the mountain lions, the jaguars, all around the world. Well, that's really what we are eating today unfortunately.
And so I'm trying to actually promote the idea of what does sustainable farming look like? And how do you actually as a farmer profit from it and get consumers to help you? And there's actually ethics that come into this as well. Because the animals, like cheetahs, or wolves, or mountain lions, don't really have an association with the spokesman out there. There's probably One Wolf Howling.
But beyond that, these animals all think that we as people are pretty good. But what we're not doing is practicing good conservation because we don't necessarily know what that means in our farming. And at this point in time, our governments and our people just think that-- we're trusting everybody. And so everything should be OK, I'm sure. But it's really not.
And so as I started getting my head around this, being a Namibian farmer, working with farmers that had stopped killing cheetahs and other predators because they had good ecosystems, they liked their wildlife, they were protecting their livestock, that we could actually do something different. Maybe those farmers should actually get a price premium.
And so I worked on this in coming up with my idea of the consumers buying good meat and if we actually labeled our meat appropriately. And we came up with an idea in Namibia of calling it Cheetah Country Beef, range fed, predator friendly, just lovely. I haven't sold the label yet. But I'm going bigger than this because I worked out all the details.
We know that there's been a lot of labeling. In particular, the most important labeling has been that of Dolphin Friendly and Dolphin Safe. And so these are things that can work.
And if we look at the economics in it, if we just put a few cents per pound onto our livestock as it's sold, the amount of income that's going back to the farmers grows exponentially. But that has to come from the consumers. And it has to be certified. And with that then, we could actually figure out ways that the consumers are actually driving, not just predator-friendly land, but ecosystem-healthy landscapes, that are supporting not only our beef, but our wildlife and our predators, which allows for more biodiversity. And, in the end, we're all going to win.
So we've also helped develop this label called Certified Wildlife Friendly. And looking at the amount of wool that everybody wears here, a few days ago, I was stopped in the woolgrowers meeting down south of here and saw yarn makers and wool people everywhere. And I thought, man, they all could be Certified Wildlife Friendly people. And then all of your clothes that you wore here in the cold weather, you'd know you'd feel good as well.
So I'm looking for partnering with consumers and businesses. And this certification has gone big because Stella McCartney has bought into our certified wildlife friendly program. With her, she's got woolens that she's selling now as well.
I want to kind of talk about these programs on a broad scale, but then bring it down into looking at a landscape level. And our back yard is called the Greater Waterberg Landscape. This is the Waterberg Plateau Park, which is a national park, which is right here. This is our conservancy. We're based right here. It's the Waterberg.
This area is about 2 million acres, where we've got rhinos and cheetahs in these areas, as well as that of the wild dog, which are some of the most critically endangered species. And working together with these communities, we've come up, working with that of the NAM-PLACE, which is a UNDP program, working with our Namibian wildlife department.
There are five landscapes in the country. And we're one of them. And we were able to start laying out a landscape approach to conservation. And the people in that 2 million acres are primarily livestock farmers, with no other form of income.
And so we've laid out this large-scale plan to figure out that we could improve habitat and grazing land by harvesting the bush and overlaying it with the FSC standards. And then look at how to train good, better quality of livestock and increase the wildlife in the area, and bring wildlife in, and increase tourism.
So with that, these are all starting. So Future Farmers of Africa has a beginning. And we're starting to go out into the communities with our agriculture trainers, to help them. We want more helping with the overlap of the veterinarian side.
Many of the people want to make crafts and look at tourism. And so we've been helping teach them about how to market and package their products. And just bringing these guys forward, is they have sent me over here to America with a handful of products. And some of them are out here. And they carry the Waterberg landscape and a story about them as artisans. But they're a very special people, about 23,000 of them. And they're all my best friends.
And along with the people are these wildlife populations that we're managing, trying to grow, and where we hope allow to have a great benefit to the people on the land. But we'll continue to support the predator populations. And the work that we do is all focused on saving cheetahs.
So again, my family, and friends, and partners are great Namibians. We have people from throughout Africa that work with us. We've trained people from 15 of the cheetah-range countries, over 300 of their best biologists. When I get home next week, we're supposed to have 45 of the biologists from Niger, which has of the last of the desert cheetahs, coming down and working with us, along with the Minister of Environment from Niger, at our center in Namibia.
We deal with about 25,000 schoolchildren a year. And over the years that I've been out there, over 350,000 school kids, of which our minister of environment, a few weeks ago, when we were being introduced at a big meeting, he said, I don't need to know who Laurie is. I've known her since she was nine years old. And she's helped develop a lot of our conservancy initiatives and helping our communities. So Cheetah Conservation Fund is a well-loved organization. And I'm proud to be a part of my family.
So big scale, try to find solutions ecologically, stop the killing, learn from the people, hear what they have to say. Look at putting people to work and understanding how they can be a part of the solution, and not just the problem.
And we need to find economic drivers that are going to keep conservation going. And so whether it's our cheetah label, or Cheetah Country, or that of looking at biomass electricity, or cheetah power, those are the kinds of solutions that I think we need. But we need to take what we've done in Namibia and help all of Africa and help all of our predators.
The book that I've just come out with is called A Future for Cheetahs. And a great book, with Suzi Eszterhas as the photographer of most of these pictures. And I'd be happy to sign any books. I think this young lady's got a book here that I'll sign for you happily.
But I thank you for letting me be a part of your team here in Cornell. And I welcome you to continue joining our team in a variety of ways. We've got volunteers to come over. We love interns. We like collaboration with many of the university professors of different departments that are here.
So please go to our website. And please know that if we're going to save the cheetah, we have a short time. And we all have to act and do more together. Thank you.
ALEX TRAVIS: So we have time for a few questions. Anyone have a question for Dr. Marker?
LAURIE MARKER: You guys have any?
SPEAKER 1: Hi. I was thinking about a story, maybe 15 years ago, when canine distemper made its way into the Serengeti. I loved the Anatolian sheep dog story or whatever they are. Do you have to vaccinate them before you disseminate the dogs for someone?
LAURIE MARKER: We vaccinate them. We keep them vaccinated. And then we also vaccinate the other dogs that are in the areas as well. So vaccinations are extremely important. Using the dogs, it helps reduce livestock loss. But it also helps us get into those communities and do a lot of other help as well.
SPEAKER 2: I'm really impressed by all you're doing. I had a question about the thornbush removal. Since the roots are so pervasive in the ground, is there a risk that by removing them, the soil might be eroded at the next rain?
LAURIE MARKER: Well, we don't take all of the trees. So we have a very select harvest that we do. And we kind of look at 60% to 70%. And so that is something that we definitely understand.
SPEAKER 3: I think I heard you say that out there in the landscape, the predators, cheetahs and others, are preferring the wild animals to the livestock. Is that correct?
LAURIE MARKER: That's right.
SPEAKER 3: That's counterintuitive given the nature of those kinds of beasts out there. What explains their preference for the wild animals over the domesticated livestock?
LAURIE MARKER: Well, the domesticated livestock isn't all that much fun to hunt and catch. We find that oftentimes with the, like, smaller calves, farmers will say, well, the cheetah is just standing there, kind of hitting it. It's get up, move, get up.
And they can only catch calves. Usually 90% of the loss is under one month of age. And as you get into older animals, they're usually right in with the herd. And then you've got herd protection.
And so it's your young animals that are really the most basically being killed by the different predator species. And so, then it's also a learned behavior. And if a cheetah mother or other predators are raising their young, not eating the livestock, then livestock become sort of a foreign thing.
By having the dogs that bark loudly, it alerts. For instance, I don't want to go near that homestead. There's people down there. And so I always call it kind of a timeshare. Is that if you've got everything kind of working, the predators come out when your livestock is actually kind of more protected.
And our Namibian farmers basically really alerted us to that, that if they're well cared for livestock, you're not going to have livestock losses. We had to go and improve a lot of that as well. And then from that, be able to share that with other farmers and then continue monitoring it.
ALEX TRAVIS: Other questions for Dr. Marker?
SPEAKER 4: Are people still against not killing cheetahs?
LAURIE MARKER: Are they against not killing the cheetahs? Are they still against?
SPEAKER 4: Are they still--
LAURIE MARKER: Are they still killing cheetahs?
SPEAKER 4: Yeah.
LAURIE MARKER: Sometimes they do. But we are fortunate that a lot of the losses are now more linked to actual loss of livestock, and not just because they see the cheetah. It's not as much linked to what we call a perceived threat. Where it used to be you saw the animal and they'd kill it, now much of that is reduced. And so if there is an animal that's a problem animal, then the farmers actually sometimes will.
But it's reduced a huge amount. I'm always supposed to remember to say that. That we've doubled the population size in Namibia in the last 25 years. That we've got somewhere between 3,000 to 4,000 cheetahs on the land. And with that, the programs that we put into effect in other countries, we think that we can help stabilize some of these populations in other countries as well.
SPEAKER 5: [INAUDIBLE] Can you remind me, was there a North American cheetah in the past?
LAURIE MARKER: There was.
SPEAKER 5: Why can't we bring some to North Dakota, on some of the abandoned land?
LAURIE MARKER: Well, because we still haven't figured out how to take care of our own problems. And so when that came about, the cheetah was here. It actually originated in North America. And went extinct, we think around the Pleistocene, when we lost the sloth bear and the sabertooth here in North America.
SPEAKER 5: Was it also larger than the present cheetah.
LAURIE MARKER: There were about four different species of cheetahs, of which there were multiple subspecies within those. And at one point, this is way before 20,000 years ago, there was something that was called cheetah intermedius, I think. And it was a cheetah that they said was much larger. It would have been pretty neat to see. That's for sure.
SPEAKER 6: [INAUDIBLE]. So I'm interested in you've got many different interconnections between all the different people. Is it true that [INAUDIBLE]? What portions of your time is devoted fundraising, or working with politicians, or how much of this is just making it happen [INAUDIBLE]?
LAURIE MARKER: Oh, I would say now I'm a make-it-happen person. I have wonderful staff. They do it.
I get to have my hands on anything I want to. I still keep my hands in the cheetah side of it because I'm always interested. But fortunately, we've reduced the numbers that come in.
It used to be we'd work on 80 to a hundred cheetahs a year. That's dropped. This year we've had one orphan cub come in. Before, we used to have maybe five to six orphaned cubs come in.
And so I get to do now what I need to do, when asked by my staff, or what I want to do if I'm interested. The communities like get to that So if there is a big community meeting, I go.
And I'm actively involved right now in this whole Greater Waterberg Landscape, which to me is one of the most important things that I think I can get going. And then I spend as much time as I need to, to fundraise. I've got a small group of people that work with me on that.
But we do have to do a lot of fundraising. And most of our funds are from America and most of them come through private donations.
SPEAKER 6: [INAUDIBLE] was this earlier on? Was it [INAUDIBLE] or was it started at the local level and going up?
LAURIE MARKER: I would say it started probably more high level in many ways. I got to know the president of Namibia and went in and got to know the ministries of environment, and then from there, the other ministers. And they all wondered what this crazy American woman was doing with cheetahs?
And they now, many of them, have been through our training programs. Many of them have livestock guarding dogs. And they know that we've gone from loving the cheetah, to actually implementing programs in their country as a real partner to them. And, that to me, is a huge honor that I feel, that they respect me for that.
And they are just awed when they come out and they look at the center that we've built that is for their people. And they consider me one of them. Although I am an American, I'm a permanent resident. You don't get permanent residency that easy.
And they basically said, we want you a permanent resident. So I'm here. And I have been now for over 20 years.
SPEAKER 7: Do you believe [INAUDIBLE]?
LAURIE MARKER: I think both are important. I think our zoo animals are extremely important for education because people-- I think they say something like 180 million people come to our zoos. It's how we then get our message from the zoo into the general public. And so those are things that zoos are continually trying to work on.
And then the zoos, we've worked very closely with them on basic research. And it goes two ways. They have animals that scientists can get their hands on. And we have been able to utilize the work that we've done, back over into the zoos, to help them more as well. So it goes two ways. So I think zoos play a very important role for all of us.
SPEAKER 8: Do you know of any other people that are killing the cheetahs, besides farmers and poachers?
LAURIE MARKER: Farmers and poachers-- I mean poachers are probably that illegal trade group of people. And then people who maybe love the cheetah, who have them, and they don't know how to properly care for them. And so that is a sad group of people, that have a lot of money and can buy some of them through black market, and then don't know how to take care of them.
And remember our veterinarians are very, very good. And they're very, very important.
ALEX TRAVIS: All right.
LAURIE MARKER: There's one more. And I'll think we'll--
SPEAKER 9: You could have just dreamed on and on about this. What got you to actually do it?
LAURIE MARKER: To go to Africa, to save cheetahs?
ALEX TRAVIS: Yes. So I think what she's asking is so many people think about questions or say, oh, I think that's important. What triggered you or tripped you to sell those belongings and go and do it? Was there any event or thought? Or was it just a realization nobody else nobody was doing it?
LAURIE MARKER: Nobody else was doing it. I call that a "they" factor. They will take care of these things. And yet there is no they. And if you look around and you hope that somebody will do it, you can hope and hope that when somebody actually goes and does it, then you've joined the they. So I joined the they.
ALEX TRAVIS: I think at that, we'll stop the questions and thank Dr. Marker for our wonderful talk.
LAURIE MARKER: Thank you.
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Wildlife conservationist Laurie Marker explains how biofuels and goat cheese can save cheetahs and lead to sustainable development in Namibia, Oct. 23, 2014. Marker is one of Cornell's A.D. White Professors-at-Large.