ECWG members, guests meet a cheetah

Members of the ECWG and their guests met a cheetah cub, at the May 14, 2011 reception and cocktail hour before enjoying dinner and then hearing Dr. Laurie Marker, FI ’06, the Founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, discuss her  work to save cheetahs from extinction.

'Nice kitty.' Jacob the cheetah cub. Photo by Darlene Shields

Attendees had their photos taken with Jacob, the cheetah cub, on the patio outside the Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club during the pre-dinner reception and cocktail hour

Throughout the reception and dinner, members and guests viewed spectacular cheetah photographs on the Powell Auditorium’s large screen. The photos were by Suzi Eszterhas and Chris Johns, editor-in-chief of the National Geographic. The images were selected by James Blair (FN ’09) and Gary Kopff (MN ’91).

The dinner was held in conjunction with the Cosmos Club’s Natural Resources Group.

In her talk Marker discussed her work with cheetahs since 1974. She set up the not-for-profit Fund in 1990 and moved to Namibia to develop a permanent Conservation Research Centre for the wild cheetah. The Centre’s work includes a focus on mitigating conflict between people and wildlife in African countries, with a special emphasis on the cheetah.

She was raised in a suburb of Los Angeles, where her father, trained as an agricultural economist, worked in the aerospace industry and kept horses, rabbits and other animals in the backyard. Marker went to San Francisco State University to study psychology, then transferred to Napa Valley College to learn winemaking.

She left college in 1972 to start a vineyard with her husband in Winston, Oregon. To help bankroll the venture, Marker worked at an animal park called Wildlife Safari. The sum total of what was then known about cheetahs at Wildlife Safari was that they were fascinating, standoffish and virtually impossible to breed.

Laurie Marker at the Cosmos Club. Photo by Darlene Shields

Captivated, Marker started to ask questions, read books and conduct research about the animals. In 2002, at 48, she earned a PhD from Oxford University. Her dissertation, Aspects of Cheetah [Acinonyx jubatus] Biology, Ecology and Conservation Strategies on Namibian Farmlands, is considered the last word on cheetahs.

Marker has also assisted in developing cheetah conservation programs in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Algeria, and Iran, as well as supporting a field research base in Kenya. Marker is considered the world’s preeminent cheetah specialist. If the cheetah species is restored from the brink of extinction, it will undoubtedly be due to the life’s work of Dr. Marker and the Cheetah Conservation Fund.

In the 1980s, with collaborators at the National Zoo and the National Cancer Institute, she helped identify cheetah’s exceptionally homogeneous DNA that causes one of the species great problems for survival.

Her awards and global recognition include: The 2010 Explorers Club Lowell Thomas Award, a Time Magazine “Heroes for the Planet” (2000), the Gold Medal Award from the Society of Woman Geographers (2008), the Conservation Medal of Lifetime Achievement Award from the Zoological Society of San Diego (2008), Intel Environmental Laureate (2008), and the Tyler Prize Laureate for the Environment (2010).

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