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Dr. Laurie Marker on Africa.Inside

Laurie Marker’s Cheetah Conservation Fund

Did you know the most endangered big cat in Africa is not lion, or leopard?
The most endangered African big cat is the cheetah. Learn how Laurie Marker’s Cheetah Conservation Fund is changing that fact.

Dr. Markers understanding of cheetah habitat has led to solutions that will be a model for dealing with human-wildlife conflict issues worldwide.

Laurie Marker talks to

photo credit: John Bowers

photo credit: John Bowers

1. Why is Cheetah the most endangered cat in Africa?

The two biggest threats to the cheetah are human wildlife conflict, and habitat loss. Cheetahs, unlike some other big cats, don’t do well in protected areas. Consequently, about 90 percent of wild cheetahs live alongside human populations where the cheetah is viewed as a threat.

In addition, many of the remaining wild cheetahs throughout Africa exist in small populations, making them more vulnerable to disease due to lack of genetic diversity. It’s crucial to create large landscapes, or corridors, where cheetah and other wildlife can move freely.

2. Where did your desire to help cheetah originate?

I first encountered cheetahs when I took a job as a veterinary technician at Wildlife Safari in Oregon (USA). I was fascinated by the cats. At that time (1974) there hadn’t been a lot of research done, and the cheetah was at risk of extinction. Soon I became the expert on cheetahs, and in 1990 I founded Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), and moved to Namibia.


3. What does it take to be Dr. Laurie Marker – to be an effective conservationist?

Effective conservation starts with passion, and the research to accomplish results. When I first arrived in Namibia I spent my time asking questions and researching the answers.

baby cheetah

What Laurie Marker learned about cheetah

Conservation is most effective when initiatives embrace the whole ecosystem, including the human populations. At CCF we’re working with livestock farmers, providing them with ways to protect their herds from cheetahs and other predators, and we have education programs aimed at farmers, school students, conservation biologists and the general public.

So it’s this: looking at practical solutions and never giving up. Conservation takes a long time.

Living in Cheetah Habitat


4. What is the best thing about living in the african bush, and having such close contact with cheetahs?

Being able to work with cheetahs every day is amazing, however, I think the best part about what I do is seeing the work we do impact the communities here in such a positive way, and seeing how attitudes about the cheetah are changing. Now Namibians are proud to be the Cheetah Capital of the World, and I’m really happy to have precipitated that change with our work through the Cheetah Conservation Fund.

 We have to learn to coexist with predators sustainably


5. Since Cheetah live in closer proximity to humans than other large cats, how to save the Cheetah, and cheetah habitats can act as a model for the larger issue of human wildlife conflict. Humans aren’t going away anytime soon, and if we don’t learn to live with wildlife, we will end up without them and that would be a horrible place to be. If we learn what it takes to live with cheetah, we will learn about human wildlife conflict in general. This isn’t really a question but do you have anything to add here or any other things you want to say?

Addressing human wildlife conflict has been central to our work for years at the Cheetah Conservation Fund, because it’s one of the biggest threats to the cheetah. It’s about more than just “learning to live with” predators but rather to coexist with them sustainably. It’s about ensuring that the communities that live alongside predators are thriving. You can’t ask a farmer to care about conserving wildlife and cheetah habitat when he’s struggling just to feed his family.

Our work has taught us that a community can successfully live alongside large predators, and those predators can actually be a source of economic growth for the community.  That’s good news for everyone.

Did you know: You can Visit, or Volunteer at the Cheetah Conservation Fund.

Contact them: Cheetah Conservation Fund.   Help Africa Inside with our kids in nature wild school programs. 

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Great News: 360,000 Euro for Namibian cheetah conservation!

360,000 Euro for Namibian cheetah conservation

by  on June 20, 2013 in News

Sean Messham Photography

Sean Messham Photography

Press Release:

Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) is pleased to announce that it is one of three recipients of a funding agreement with the Embassy of Finland. The agreements were signed on 11 June 2013, and announced by the Head of Mission of the Embassy of Finland, Ms. Anne Saloranta.

The grants are part of the Fund for Local Cooperation (FLC) of the Embassy of Finland. The total funding amount is 4 500 000 NAD (359 570 Euros). The Fund supports the eradication of poverty as well as economically, socially and ecologically sustainable development of Namibia in line with the goals of NPD4. Other recipients of funding were the Civil Society Foundation of Namibia (CSFN) and Namibia Art, Craft and Design.

The grant support from the FLC will assist CCF to improve the livelihoods of inhabitants of the Greater Waterberg Landscape (GWL), by creating a de-bushing enterprise. While bush encroachment is a serious problem for both livestock and wildlife in this region, it can be harvested and used to produce other products. Harvesting bush provides the opportunity to increase the amount of grazing land while producing a resource that can be sold, and also restore the natural habitat for wildlife. This involves assisting the inhabitants in business development and organisation, and providing a sustainable source of income through purchase of the harvested bush.

The Greater Waterberg Landscape (GWL) is comprised of several conservancies and commercial farms that fall within the Okakarara constituency. The GWL covers over 18,700km2 and is home to approximately 25,000 people. The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) has worked with these neighbours since 1991 to conserve the cheetah in the wild. CCF is committed to assisting and implementing developmental projects that will benefit the community, satisfy the needs of the people and assist in the progression of the region.

CCF recently completed a needs assessment survey for the area as a project of the Namibia Protected Landscape Conservation Areas Initiative (NAMPLACE), a UNDP/GEF five-year development initiative. Ninety-nine percent of survey respondents cited livestock as their primary income generating activity. Yet due to several factors, bush has inundated the veld in the GWL, and is intensifying livestock overgrazing by reducing the amount of available grazing lands. It is also contributing to the displacement of wildlife that once flourished in the area. Bush encroachment is the largest problem with the veld according to interviewees. When asked how the veld could be improved, half of the respondents cited de-bushing as the best solution.

CCF will assist the GWL in organising the de-bushing enterprise. This will include training and assistance in small business enterprise development, training in appropriate de-bushing techniques, and arts and crafts production training sessions utilising a portion of the harvested bush. CCF will assure via contract that the GWL de-bushing is done in a sustainable fashion and in compliance with all Namibian regulations, and that workers have access to appropriate personal protective equipment and training in its use. When harvest is accomplished under established guidelines, CCF will purchase the bush at market price, reduce it to woodchip, and transport it to Otjiwarongo for production of Bushblok.

In addition to the direct impact of this harvest, the success of the project will confirm that the GWL de-bushing activity could become a reliable supplier of bush to other ventures as the Namibian biomass industry develops.

Sean Messham Photography

Sean Messham Photography

About Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF):

The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) is a Namibian non-profit trust dedicated to the long-term survival of the cheetah and its ecosystems.

Since 1990, the organisation has developed education and conservation programmes based on its bio-medical cheetah research studies, published over 60 scientific research papers and has presented educational programmes to more than 300,000 outreach school learners, donated over 400 livestock guarding dogs to commercial and communal farmers as part of the CCF innovative non-lethal livestock management programme, and has established a cheetah genome resource bank of cheetah sperm, tissue and blood samples.

Research into cheetah biology and ecology has greatly increased our understanding of the fastest land animal and education programmes for schools and the farming community help change public attitudes to allow predator and humans to co-exist. However, despite the many successes of CCF programmes, the cheetah is still Africa’s most endangered big cat with ~10,000 cheetahs remaining.

About AfricaGeo Editorial

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Un articolo su The Guardian: Blind, Starving Cheetahs

Blind, starving cheetahs: the new symbol of climate change?

Thorny plants have begun to smother grasslands, transforming rangeland into impenetrable thicket – bad news for the big cats

Cheetah, blind in one eye, Namibia

Cheetah, blind in one eye after colliding with woody vegetation, Namibia. Photo: The AfriCat Foundation

The world’s fastest land animal is in trouble. The cheetah, formerly found across much of Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, has been extirpated from at least 27 countries and is now on the Red List of threatened species.

Namibia holds by far the largest remaining population of the speedy cat. Between 3,500 and 5,000 cheetahs roam national parks, communal rangelands and private commercial ranches of this vast, arid country in south-western Africa, where they face threats like gun-toting livestock farmers and woody plants.

Yes, woody plants. Namibia is under invasion by multiplying armies of thorny trees and bushes, which are spreading across its landscape and smothering its grasslands.

So-called bush encroachment has transformed millions of hectares of Namibia’s open rangeland into nearly impenetrable thicket and hammered its cattle industry. Beef output is down between 50 and 70% compared with the 1950s, causing losses of up to $170m a year to the country’s small economy.

Bush encroachment can also be bad news for cheetahs, which evolved to use bursts of extreme speed to run down prey in open areas. Low-slung thorns and the locked-open eyes of predators in “kill mode” are a nasty combination. Conservationists have found starving cheetahs that lost their sight after streaking through bush encroached habitats in pursuit of fleet footed food.

Farmers and researchers recognised bush encroachment as a serious problem in many parts of southern Africa by the 1980s, and it has long been thought to be caused by poor land management, including overgrazing. But, as I recently reported in Yale e360, an emerging body of science indicates that rapidly increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide may be boosting the onrushing waves of woody vegetation.

Savanna ecosystems, such as those that cover much of Africa, can be seen as battlegrounds between trees and grasses, each trying to take territory from the other. The outcomes of these battles are determined by many factors including periodic fire, an integral part of African savannas.

In simple terms, fire kills small trees and therefore helps fire-resilient grasses occupy territory. Trees have to have a long-enough break from fire to grow to
a sufficient size — about four metres high — to be fireproof and establish themselves in the landscape. The faster trees grow, the more likely they are to reach four metres before the next fire.

Lab research shows that many savanna trees grow significantly faster as atmospheric CO2 rises, and a new analysis of satellite images indicates that so-called ‘CO2 fertilisation’ has caused a large increase in plant growth in warm, arid areas worldwide.

Although poor land management is undoubtedly partly to blame for bush encroachment, increased atmospheric CO2 seems to be upsetting many savanna ecosystems’ vegetal balance of power in favour of trees and shrubs.

If increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is causing climate change and also driving bush encroachment that results in blind cheetahs, should blind, starving cheetahs be a new symbol of climate change, to join polar bears whose Arctic sea ice hunting grounds are melting?

Conservationists have noted cheetahs with severe eye injuries since the 1990s, but, as specialist eye vet Dr. Gary Bauer told me, no research has been done to figure out how common these injuries are in the wild population or to confirm the assumption that cheetahs living in bush-encroached areas suffer more eye injuries than cheetahs in open habitats. There’s no hard proof that eye injuries are an immediate threat to the species’ survival, or if they’re any worse in bush-encroached areas.

Research has confirmed that cheetah prey species change as a landscape becomes more thickly wooded. Plains game animals like wildebeest, springbok and red hartebeest are squeezed out and replaced by bush-tolerant species like kudu. This changeover in game species is by itself not a disaster for cheetahs, which can hunt even in fairly wooded habitat as long as they have enough space to exploit their extraordinary acceleration, speed and agility. But if bush becomes so dense that it’s difficult for cheetahs to move through (as happens in severe cases of encroachment) then cheetahs will disappear.

“It’s cheaper to buy a hectare than to clean and repair a hectare” of bush-encroached land, said Donna Hanssen of the AfriCat Foundation, a big cat conservation group based in Namibia, underscoring the challenge faced by landowners wanting to rid themselves of the thorny scourge, but, she reminded me, “the biggest killer of cheetah in this country is man. Farmers.”

Farmers shoot and trap large numbers of cheetahs, which they blame for killing cattle, sheep and goats. As Namibia’s population expands, more cattle are being herded deeper into natural areas, bringing men with guns and poison into previously safe wildernesses.

Organisations like AfriCat and the Cheetah Conservation Fund are working hard — with some apparent success — to educate farmers about cheetahs and help them live with big cats instead of killing them. They’re also pioneering methods of dealing with bush encroachment like turning invading trees into biomass fuel blocks, although it remains to be seen if these methods can be economically scaled up to deal with the literally millions of hectares of expanding encroacher bush.

In summary: Are thorn-inflicted eye injuries currently a threat to the cheetah’s survival as a species? Probably not.

Is increasing atmospheric CO2 driving bush encroachment in African savannas? Probably, although savannas are complex ecosystems, influenced by many drivers, and the scientific understanding of CO2 fertilisation in these systems is incomplete.

Is uncontrolled bush encroachment severely impacting plains game and could it ultimately drive cheetahs out? Is it a real conservation problem? Almost certainly.

Are blind, starving cheetahs useful symbols of climate change? You decide.


AMANI Controllata “a vista”



About seven months ago, one of CCF’s resident non-releasable cheetahs, Amani, developed a corneal lesion on her right eye: a cloudy area with a white speck barely visible. Initially the condition did not seem to irritate her, and we really could not train a wild cheetah to take eye drops!  However, by late January 2013 the eye dramatically worsened, and the lesion progressed into a corneal ulcer. The eye began to tear excessively, and her nictitating membrane (a translucent third eyelid cheetahs have for moisture and protection) was raised, causing her to squint constantly –an indication of eye pain.

Amani thus began a series of anaesthesias. The first was to perform surgery — suturing the nictitating membrane to the inside of the upper eyelid, thus forming a protective layer of tissue over the damaged cornea.  The surgery, performed by CCF’s veterinarian, Amelia Zakiewicz, went without complications.
Amani was anaesthesised three more times over the next couple months to assess her progress, with the sutures redone each time to allow healing to continue. By the end of February, it was clear that the surgery had not worked. The ulcer was healing too slowly.  We did a new procedure, called a conjunctival flap surgery. This two-hour long surgery involved suturing the membrane lining inside of eyelids directly to the cornea. Another eyelid flap was performed to further protect the ulcer and sutures.

On 8 April Amani was again anaesthetised to assess the conjunctival flap surgery.  The ulcer had improved, but a prolapse had occurred — the iris had migrated into the ulcer to plug the defect. We were not pleased with this prognosis but monitor how the condition and see how it developed. However, the situation continued to deteriorate and therefore, on 22 April, after further assessment, we decided to remove her right eye, thus reducing her discomfort.

After almost three months, Amani has adapted to seeing with one eye and is capable of focusing on fences, feeding bowls and even meat treats thrown in her general direction.  She is one of the best runners in her camp and is still chasing CCF’s feeding vehicle.  She does not miss a thing!  Amani is completely off all pain-related medications and now receives only a daily Omega-3 capsule. She recovered flawlessly from the surgery; however her eye has taken on the expected sunken appearance.  We all wish Amani well, and hope that the coming months will be less problematic for her.

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International Anti Poaching Foundation

IAPF Drone Program

8034909441 96ee6cece7 oFor ALL enquiries regarding UAV’s please email:


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are remotely operated light air vehicles that are able to fly completely autonomously as part of a pre-planned or manually altered flight plan.  They can carry a variety of sensors (including cameras) to enable a battlefield commander to have access to intelligence from beyond the field of view on the ground, thereby greatly improving situational awareness and preparedness to respond.
We are fighting a war against well-armed and informed poachers. In the context of reducing poaching in dangerous environments, UAVs provide a broad-reaching, safer and more cost-effective solution, allowing rangers to monitor a much greater mass of land whilst reducing their own exposure to dangerous and armed poachers.  In Africa, the rhino population has decreased significantly over the past few years due to poaching.   In order to save the rhino from extinction a collaborative effort is needed from wildlife groups, governments and the international community at large.  Rhino UAV aims to change the odds in favour of our endangered wildlife by enabling conservationists to have greater access to UAV technology and to provide education and training.
Our intension is to understand the specific requirements of a conservation area and then source and implement an appropriate UAV for that area, as well as other remote monitoring devices currently being developed.


Why Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) over manned aircraft?


1.  UAVs can fly for longer periods at a time; meaning one drone could potentially fly for the whole night watching over borders and animal herds, feeding back live intelligence to operators. UAVs are ideal for this kind of work as they are able to carry out dull, repetitive missions over the same area time and time again, without tiring.


2.  UAVs are cheaper than manned aircraft – we are not talking about US military reaper drones or global hawks here – just basic systems than fly autonomously.


3. UAVs don’t expose a human pilot to the potential dangers of being fired at by poachers.


The Elephants of Niassa

  • To view 60 Minutes and Carte Blanch stories about the Elephants of Niassa follow these links:  mozambique safari  bird watching  travel adventures  wilderness camp

    60 Minutes ,Carte Blanche

  • To read a full report of the IAPF UAV program click here

The IAPF would like to thank Lugenda wilderness camp for their recent support whilst in Mozambique.
For more information about them visit


In the wild, far northern reaches of Mozambique lies one of the most remote and extraordinary places on the African Continent. Niassa Reserve is a vast wilderness area and home to an elephant population of 13,000. This population is under constant attack from uncompromising poachers, determined to supply the black market with ivory. I traveled to Lugenda Camp within Niassa in an effort to understand the situation. I had no idea the unmanned drones that I had last seen in Iraq, were lurking on the horizon just behind me.

It’s summer 2007. I’m hiding out in an abandoned aircraft hanger in southern Iraq. Today was a long one in which we narrowly escaped two roadside bombs reaching our destination. By nighttime, we can hear the unmistakable high-pitched motor of an unmanned drone patrolling the black sky above us. It’s seeking out the insurgent teams that would attempt to stop us again tomorrow with earth shattering explosions, sending molten fragments of metal our way at a rate of two kilometers per second. Once identified, a gun ship will neutralize the threat. The noise of the gunship engaging is what signals a completed mission. Without that confirmation, it’s easy to lie awake wondering what will be waiting for you in the morning. It’s Ramadan, and just before the call to prayer, we get the confirmation. The drone had fulfilled its role.



Fast-forward 5 years and I’m standing on the top of an inselburg in Niassa Reserve. My senses have been re-sharpened to the sounds and smells of the African Savannah. Already this week within a small radius, 6 elephants have been murdered. Heavily armed Tanzanian gangs cross the border illegally to take advantage of the infinite remoteness that engulfs us. We are burdened by a lack of resources that makes me want to scream with frustration to all of humanity. This morning I saw a dead elephant up close with its face cut away. I started to wonder; why could I have a drone flying over my head in Iraq protecting me, but these ancient creatures can’t drink from a watering hole without the threat of a heavy calibre bullet ripping through soft tissue, skull and eventually brain matter?

I no longer wear the uniform, fully complimented with all the ‘fruit’ hanging off it that would make an advance on any insurgent position a better than average chance of success. We don’t have a helicopter gunship. I’m in bare feet, my hair has grown out and there is an old Czech made AK-47 with worn wooden grips at my side. I haven’t been deployed by any force and no longer take home a wage. This is a war being fought by a select few and there are no joining papers to sign. All that exists is deep understanding of what needs to be done.
It is in Niassa where we will join the race to implement the technology into conservation that has revolutionized the way things are done on the regular battlefield. We are entering the Drone Age. In the past decade, a trillion dollar mobile phone industry has made technology previously reserved for the military, now accessible for civilian application. Riding on the coattails of this revolution, we do our best to gain momentum for the use of advanced technology in conservation. “Pilotless aircraft have changed fighting much as night-vision technology did in the 1980s and 1990s,” stated Col. John Burke, project manager for the Army’s UAV program back in 2006. “It’s very seldom that you see a revolution in warfare like this.”

I knew there were problems with elephant poaching in Mozambique. When I arrived in Niassa I met with Derek Littleton, a hardened Zimbabwean that manages Lugenda, a 4600 km2 conservation area. He has fought hard to preserve this area for 12 years now, but his resolve is constantly being challenged. To give you some perspective, Niassa is 42,000 km2, the 3rd largest reserve in Africa. This is the same size as Denmark, and larger that 114 other countries on the planet. Denmark has 73,000 km of roadway. Niassa has around 2000 km, making most areas inaccessible by vehicle.
Compiling one of the largest conservation areas of Miombo woodlands in the world, it is also the most ecologically diverse area of Mozambique – A country now booming back to life after 15 years of civil war. Niassa is often described as one of the last wild places on the African continent, with most areas untamed by man. It is the most extraordinary place I have ever seen. The limited visitors that do make it here experience something that few will ever know of.

Niassa has built up fantastic wildlife populations thanks to hard work by dedicated conservationists such as Anabela Rodrigues who has administered Niassa for the past 12 years. The Wildlife Conservation Society’s new government contract also gives hope for a prosperous future. The elephants of Niassa however are now under extreme and constant threat. Chinese contracts to log the ancient forests surrounding the Reserve have greatly increased their presence in the area. Subsequently, the interest for ivory is unshakable; like a moth to the light. As the threat surges, the resources become increasingly limited and something ‘out of the box’ is required. Last year 1372 new elephant carcasses were counted in the reserve since the previous survey of 2009. Anabela Rodrigues who has administered Niassa for SNR recognizes that “this is a very serious poaching trend.” According to Derek, “In 2012 the trend has worsened and up to 6 elephants a day are being poached in the reserve.”

Elephants, the worlds largest land mammals, are tremendously sophisticated creatures. They posses extraordinary intelligence and live amongst complex social structures, capable of adapting to vastly contrasting surroundings. Regarded as a keystone species, they play a vital role in shaping Africa’s habitats and disperse seeds across their wide ranges. These seeds lead to the forests of tomorrow that give us the air we breathe. They also attract tourists from across the globe that inject funding and support extensive employment. Despite this, they face a multitude of serious threats; most recognized being the illegal killing for ivory. Despite a 23-year international ban on trade in ivory, they continue to be shot for their prized tusks, with most of the material ending up on sale in Asia.

When Simon Beart approached me in Melbourne in early 2012 and said he would like to build drones for the IAPF, I politely replied, as I generally do, and forgot about it. I’ve had plenty of these offers in the past. Running a not-for-profit I have a simple formula that helps me avoid disappointment. 95 people out of a hundred that offer you help, never come through. The faster I can reply to these 95 people, the quicker I get to my 5 – The really dedicated ones.

Two days after arriving to meet Derek’s team in Niassa I received an email from Simon saying he was a week away from being airborne. The cogs immediately began to turn. We started the logistical task of completing the drones and bringing them to Africa. A drone would be good, but it wouldn’t be enough. We needed an additional capability and there was only one place to go for this. Flir lead the market in lightweight, thermal imaging cameras, suitable for the exact thing we were doing. A thermal imaging camera displays an area in 2 dimensions. It distinguishes everything in layers depending on the heat signature that it puts out. A human being against the night backdrop of the Africa bush is perfect illustration of white on black.

The drones we are using are small in comparison to a Predator UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) that routinely patrols the skies anywhere the United States has an interest in. But it has a purpose. It’s a great example of what technology should be: smaller, lighter, easier to function, sophisticated and cheaper. Gyroscopes, which measure rates of rotation; magnetometers, which act as digital compasses; pressure sensors, which measure atmospheric pressure to calculate altitude; accelerometers, to measure the force of gravity – all the capabilities of these technologies are now embedded in tiny chips that you can buy at an electrical store. Global Positioning Systems which cost tens of thousands of dollars in the 90’s are now a thumbnail size device and cost as little as $10.

In Niassa, the drone allows us to have eyes on the target, to see things out in front of us and in places we don’t have the resources to get to. Previously we would walk around, waiting to bump into something. Now, we peek over the horizon. The drone can provide day or night aerial intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance. Real-time intelligence is everything in an operational environment. Having this far exceeds locating a 2-day old footprint or worse still, the mutilated carcass of an animal. Having the resources to follow up on intelligence is critical too. If we can cover with a drone in a few hours what a ground team covers in a week why not extract some of the rangers from from the field. They can then be trained as a specialist reaction unit and on constant standby to respond to real time intelligence.

As trials begin, the complex list of unforseen problems in one of Africa’s most remote areas becomes evident. 3 days into operations, we crash and badly damage the first drone; the wings ripped from the fuselage and the volatile battery packs destroyed. 90% of the problems we encounter are software related. Online support networks help us problem solve and we are soon airborne again.

Hours after re-entering operations, the drone locates the dying embers of a poachers campfire in the early hours of the morning. A radio call from Simon relays the position and Derek prepares his ground units for deployment. Stalking through the bush towards the target I wonder to myself how long it would have taken to locate this well hidden camp without the drone. Weapons raised, the raiding line closes the final 50 meters silently and takes the camp by surprise just after 5 am. A week earlier, a similar raid ended in a fire-fight with one ranger shot through the shoulder and one wounded poacher fleeing back to Tanzania. Of the 4 people in this camp, 2 have fishing licences. The other two are Tanzanian, have no paperwork, and poor excuses as to why they are in the area. They are arrested and taken to the nearest police headquarters 4 hours away for further questioning.

These types of small units are often responsible for poaching, moving weapons or ivory and informing colleagues of elephant movements in the area. They make up some of the 35,000 people living within Niassa’s boundaries. Numerous counterfeit fishing licences make the regulation of movement an almost impossible task. Many would consider these people to be poor. They are in comparison to Western Society, but relatively speaking, they lived simply and were comfortable. For many years they survived on a local trade system, not requiring money. They now see what they never had, and need it. Driving through villages I see shiny new motorbikes, iPhones and designer clothes; all undoubtedly purchased with the backing of the ivory trade. What complicates conservation further is that elephants here are considered vermin. Crop raids and fatalities as a result of human encroachment into wildlife areas create a constant divide between the two species. The poachers are doing the locals a great justice, and pocketing the consequence.

What is needed in Niassa as a fulltime drone with a long-range capability. This will help patrol the vast areas and channel the limited resources to where they can be off most effect. Envisage a drone, with a 20-hour endurance, flying endless grids across the Reserve. Live feedback is channelled through computer recognition software which is programed to alert staff of any incursions. The drone locks onto the target and guides ground teams into position whilst the entire incident is recorded. This type of capability will cost around US$130k. Many will argue the money could be much better spent in other places. I couldn’t think of a more worthy place. But I’m biased. Now imagine the capabilities of this technology injected into the Rhino Wars raging further south.

The Journey
In 2008 I left Iraq for good after 3 years of duty in the Sandpit. I had saved and invested considerably and could afford not to work for the foreseeable future, and that was the plan. Eager for adventure, I’d heard about the work of anti-poaching units some years earlier and earmarked it for a 6-month tour. I arrived in Africa at the beginning of 2009 aged 29. It was in Zimbabwe where the purpose of my journey through life really hit home. I was face-to-face with the harsh reality of rangers on the front line, with little resources, trying to defend a global treasure from a determined enemy. It was not something I could ever turn my back on. I grit my teeth, liquidated my assets and set up the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.

The seed for my frustration that would lead to the start of the IAPF was watching underpaid and underappreciated rangers sent out on missions in harms way. Before I set out on my first patrol in Zimbabwe, I knew already what was needed to win the battles these rangers faced on a daily basis. It’s not a hard one to pinpoint – Training, equipment, mentoring, institutional support and persistence. Taking my boots off after that first patrol, I boldly stated, “Access to the right technology would win this entire war.” The drones which had helped bring me home safely from Iraq, were at the top of my list. I spent the next three years working with rangers, training them, running operations and above all – learning. We built affiliations that gave us access to reserves, equipment and manpower. We established two training facilities to teach rangers. The experience reiterated that little has changed in decades when it comes to patrolling vast wilderness areas. It generally consists of a small team, with a weapon or two, basic rations and limited communications sent out on extended patrols.

I’m often asked how I can focus so hard on protecting animals when there are people suffering around the world. I ask them if they would have more of a problem with a dog digging up their flowerbed or a terrorist launching a chemical attack in their city centre. Both are at about the extreme levels of what animals and humans are intentionally capable of doing to really upset your day.

Over the past few years I have really started to struggle on a personal level with the way things are unfolding on a global scale. We now share a planet with 7 billion other people. All fighting hard each day for a better job, to build a grander house and drive a faster car. We spend more and more each waking moment to advance, to grow bigger, faster and stronger. We spend more protecting our own species than anything else on the planet. Healthcare, border protection, defence, disease cure and energy. We no longer live in a society. We live in an economy. In the short-sightedness of our quest to advance, we have foolishly pushed ourselves to a point where we are scrambling for solutions. We need to decide what is important and then make decisions that matter. This generation will be judged by our moral courage to protect what is right and every worthwhile action requires a level of sacrifice.

If we can justify spending a trillion dollars on advancing the way we talk to each other, then how do we make sure the use of this same technology is available for saving what our human march forward is destroying? Drones have been available for well over a decade for defence and energy. We must for now sit here grateful for the fact we have been able to build just two for the purpose of saving these magnificent elephants.

True wilderness areas are shrinking. They are a global asset. They were created for a reason and that is to preserve what little we have left. Why must the conservation of these areas be an ongoing struggle? Why must those dedicating their lives to protecting these areas be in constant battle with each other for funding? I think it’s unfortunate that struggling or poorly administered African countries should be left with the burden of having to fund all the costs of conservation in the conservation areas. These are the world’s assets to experience and the responsibility therefore should be a global one.

We are doing our best to hold back the tide of human encroachment – The unbalanced challenge between dwindling wilderness areas and rapidly increasing human populations. If we all don’t begin respect this planet, and I mean wholeheartedly, then it is going to chew us up and spit us out.

This project is a big step for us. The Drone Age is coming to conservation and we must be given the capacity to embrace it. This project does not just represent what can be done for the elephants of Niassa, but what should be a global focus. It is high time that conservationists around the world be given access to the equipment that is out there. My vision is that one day soon, wildlife all over the world will have a watchful eye flying over, just as our soldiers do on the battlefield.





Un atleta a tutto tondo


Anyone who has watched a cheetah run down an antelope knows that these cats are impressively fast. But it turns out that speed is not the secret to their prodigious hunting skills: a novel study of how cheetahs chase prey in the wild shows that it is their agility — their skill at leaping sideways, changing directions abruptly and slowing down quickly — that gives those antelope such bad odds.

Robert Ghement/European Pressphoto Agency

A cheetah at a game reserve in South Africa. New research suggests that the key to the predator’s success lies more in its natural braking and maneuvering abilities than in its blazing top speeds.

Robert Ghement/European Pressphoto Agency

Cheetahs don’t actually go very fast when they’re hunting,” said Alan M. Wilson, an author of a paper about them.

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“Cheetahs don’t actually go very fast when they’re hunting,” said Alan M. Wilson, a professor at the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London who studied cheetahs in Botswana and published a paperabout them on Wednesday in the journal Nature. “The hunt is much more about maneuvering, about acceleration, about ducking and diving to capture the prey.”

Until now researchers had been able to gather data on the hunting habits of cheetahs only by studying the animals in captivity, or from direct — though relatively imprecise — observations of their movements in the wild. But Dr. Wilson and his team spent nearly 10 years designing and building a battery-powered, solar-charged tracking collar, one that uses an accelerometer, a gyroscope and GPS technology to monitor the animal’s movements.

They attached these collars to five cheetahs in the Okavango Delta region and observed 367 of their hunting runs over six to nine months. The cheetahs ran as fast as 58 miles an hour, and their average speed was 33 m.p.h. High-speed runs accounted for only a small portion of the total distance covered by the cheetahs each day, the researchers found.

They also found that a cheetah can slow down by as much as 9 m.p.h. in a single stride — a feat that proves more helpful in hunting than the ability to break highway speed records. A cheetah often decelerates before turning, the data showed, and this enables it to make the tight turns that give it an advantage over its fast and nimble prey.

“Its muscles are very powerful,” Dr. Wilson said. “They’re arranged in a way that gives it the ability to accelerate very quickly.”

Along with those leg muscles, cheetahs have a flexible spine and big claws that give them a great deal of grip — “more grip than even a motorbike,” as Dr. Wilson put it. This anatomy helps the cats get their feet in the right positions to turn and maneuver.

“If you’ve ever done snow skiing or skateboarding really fast, you realize that stability and maneuverability at high speeds are a real problem,” said John Bertram, a professor of medicine at the University of Calgary in Alberta, who was not involved in the study. Cheetahs have adapted to handle these challenges of physics in a way “we hadn’t expected,” he said.

Dr. Bertram praised the team’s tracking collar as “a very clever approach” that uses the latest technology to study cheetah movement in a way that had never been done before. Dr. Wilson previously tested a version of the collar on pigeons in a 2011 study published in Nature, but this was the first time the device had been used to capture movement data on an animal in the wild.

Dr. Wilson’s paper may have also put to rest the question of how fast cheetahs can actually run. In the 1960s, researchers in Africa recorded cheetahs running as fast as 65 m.p.h., but since then a number of scientists, including Dr. Wilson, have been able to clock them at speeds of only 30 to 40 m.p.h. This made some researchers “a little bit suspicious,” Dr. Bertram said. He added that Dr. Wilson’s latest data seems to confirm that cheetahs do reach speeds approaching 60 m.p.h. “on a fairly regular basis,” making them the fastest land mammals.

What is more, the cheetah’s ability to maneuver at high speeds far surpasses that of the greyhound and the horse, its closest competitors in that category, Dr. Wilson said. “The cheetah is way out there ahead of those animals,” he added. “It’s really the all-around athlete, the all-around pursuit predator.”



A version of this article appeared in print on June 13, 2013, on page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: Handling, Not Speed, Seen as Key to Cheetahs’ Hunting Skills.
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Secret To Cheetahs’ Speedy Stride Found- by Jennifer Welsh

Richard Wiese at CCF last year, with dr. Laurie MArker

Richard Wiese at CCF last year, with dr. Laurie MArker



        Cheetahs can change gears while running.

Cheetahs and greyhounds have very similar running styles, but somehow the big cats leave their doggy rivals in the dust.  Their secret: Cheetahs “switch gears” while running, striding more frequently at higher speeds, new research finds.

Greyhounds, on the other hand, seem to take the same number of strides per second at every speed.

Cheetahs have been recorded running at up to 65 mph (105 kilometers per hour) — much faster than a greyhound, which, as the fastest canid (dog-like animal), is known to reach 43 mph (68 kph). (10 Things You Didn’t Know About Dogs)

NEWS: Robotic Cheetah Breaks Record

“Cheetahs and greyhounds are known to use a rotary gallop, and physically they are remarkably similar, yet there is this bewitching difference in maximum speed of almost a factor of 2,” study researcher Alan Wilson, from the Royal Veterinary College in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.

Running wild

The researchers studied cheetahs from the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in the suburbs of London and the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre in South Africa. They also studied retired racing greyhounds from the United Kingdom.

They planted force-measuring plates in the ground and had the animals chase after a piece of chicken. They took high-speed video of the animals in motion and measured the force created by the running animal, calibrated with how much it weighed.

The cheetahs being studied didn’t come close to the speeds reported for wild cheetahs — the zoo animals reached 38 mph (61 kph), while the greyhounds topped out at 43 mph (68 kph).

The researchers said this was probably because the captive-born cheetahs have never really gotten the chance to let loose in the wild and run (a tutto gas, a manetta).

“They have lived in a zoo for several generations and have never had to run to catch food. They have probably never learned to run, particularly,” Wilson said. “The next stage is to try to make measurements in wild cheetahs in the hope of seeing higher speeds.”

Strut & stride

The researchers did find a few differences, however; for instance, the cheetah’s stride was slightly longer than the greyhound’s.

The captive cheetahs also were able to change their stride frequency (strides per second) as they reached higher speeds: At 20 mph (32 kph), they took 2.4 strides per second, but at 38 mph (61 kph), they took 3.2 strides per second. The greyhounds, on the other hand, maintained a constant rate of around 3.5 strides per second no matter how fast they ran.

HOWSTUFFWORKS: What makes a cheetah run so fast?

Wilson suspects wild cats may be able to reach frequencies of four strides per second, which, in combination with longer stride lengths, may be what allows them to outstrip their poochy counterparts.

The study was published on June 21, 2012 in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Greyhound, Giandomenico Tiepolo

Greyhound, Giandomenico Tiepolo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia 

Il segreto della velocità del ghepardo: Le sue falcate !

Un ghepardo in corsa al Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia

Un ghepardo in corsa al Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia

Il concetto fondamentale

  • I ghepardi possono cambiare marcia mentre corrono.

  • Le loro falcate sono piu’ lunghe di quelle dei levrieri.


Ghepardi e levrieri hanno uno stile di corsa molto simile,  ma in qualche modo i felini fanno mangiare polvere ai loro rivali canini. I ghepardi invertono rotta mentre sono in corsa, facendo falcate piu’ numerose ad alta velocità. Questi i risultati di recenti ricerche.

I levrieri, d’altro canto, sembrano fare lo stesso numero di falcate al secondo, a qualsiasi velocità.

I ghepardi sono stati registrati ad una velocità che arriva fino a 65 miglia l’ora (105 km/ora), quindi sono molto piu’ veloci di un levriero, che, essendo il canide piu’ veloce, raggiunge le 43 miglia orarie (68 km/ora).

I ghepardi e i levrieri utilizzano un galoppo rotatorio, e fisicamente sono molto simili, tuttavia esiste questa differenza disarmante nell’alta velocità, di quasi un fattore di 2.” Alan Wilson, ricercatore presso il Royal Veterinary College del Regno Unito, ha fatto questa dichiarazione.

Corsa Selvaggia

I ricercatori hanno studiato i ghepardi del ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, nella periferia di Londra, e il Centro Ann van Dyk del Sudafrica.

Nel terreno sono state fissate piastre di misurazione della forza, e gli animali si sono slanciati dietro un pezzo di pollo. E’ stato ripreso un video ad alta velocità degli animali in movimento, ed è stata misurata la forza creata dall’animale in corsa, calibrata in base al peso dello stesso.

I ghepardi esaminati non si sono neppure avvicinati alle velocità registrate per i ghepardi selvatici – gli animali dello zoo hanno raggiunto le 38 miglia/ora (61 km orari) mentre i levrieri hanno toccato il massimo con 43 miglia orarie (68 km orari).

I ricercatori hanno spiegato che probabilmente i ghepardi in cattività non hanno mai potuto veramente avere l’opportunità di scorrazzare in natura e di correre a tutto gas.

Hanno vissuto in uno zoo per molte generazioni, e non hanno mai dovuto correre per procacciarsi il cibo. Probabilmente non hanno mai imparato a correre.” ha detto Wilson.” La prossima fase sarà dedicata alle misurazioni su ghepardi selvatici, sperando di rilevare velocità superiori.”

Andatura e falcata

I ricercatori tuttavia hanno rilevato alcune differenze;ad esempio, la falcata del ghepardo è leggermente piu’ ampia di quella del levriero.

I ghepardi in cattività erano in grado di modificare la frequenza della falcata (falcata al secondo) quando raggiungevano velocità superiori: a 20 miglia/ora (32 km/ora) le falcate al secondo erano 2,4, mentre a 38 miglia/ora (61 km/ora), le falcate al secondo arrivavano a 3,5. I levrieri, da parte loro, mantenevano un tasso costante di 3,5 falcate al secondo a prescindere dalla velocità.

Che cosa rende il ghepardo cosi’ veloce??

 Wilson ipotizza che i felini selvatici possano essere in grado di raggiungere frequenze di 4 falcate al secondo, il che combinato alla maggiore lunghezza della falcata, puo’ essere il fattore che li fa distanziare dalla controparte canina.

Lo studio è stato pubblicato il 21 giugno 2012 nel Journal of Experimental Biology.