Twice a year, I leave Cheetah Conservation Fund operations in Namibia and do a lecture and fundraising tour, usually visiting several cities in North America, and stopping in Europe on my way home. These tours are energizing for me, because I have the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, all of whom love the cheetah and are committed to helping CCF save it from extinction. All of these “cheetah friends,” old and new, have embraced our mission, and I am grateful to have their support.
Appreciation of the cheetah seems to be a universal impulse. People of every nation I have ever visited are fascinated with the cheetah. The cheetah’s speed, grace, and the look of fierce nobility in its seemingly endless amber eyes, have captivated humans for thousands of years. Unfortunately, it is because of humans that wild cheetah population has been decimated by 90 percent over the past century. Human-wildlife conflict, habitat destruction, illegal wildlife trafficking and the pet trade have put the cheetah’s very survival as a species in jeopardy.
I was heartened, however, by my visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg from October 24 to October 26, because it renewed my faith that the world is indeed motivated to save the cheetah. Members of the European Parliament’s Intergroup for Animal Welfare and Conservation (IAWC) — Catherine Bearder and Andrea Zanoni — joined us for a dinner among CCF supporters. The following day I delivered apresentation to the members of the IAWC at the European Parliament, discussing many of our efforts to combat human-wildlife conflict issues, including our Livestock Guarding Dog Program, our Future Farmers of Africa Program, and our Bushblok initiative. I was gratified to find my presentation well received, with a very active question and answer session afterwards. I am very grateful to Cristiana Muscardini, the MEP from Italy who assisted in obtaining the invitation to speak, Andreas Erler, Secretariat of the Intergroup, who extended the invitation, and volunteer Elisabetta von Hoening, who worked tirelessly in planning the visit.
CCF’s approach to conservation, which focuses on creating opportunities for humans and predators to thrive side by side, has a lot to teach the world. By collaborating with local communities and finding practical, economically advantageous solutions, local Namibian farmers now see the cheetah as a valuable asset, and implement predator-friendly farming techniques as a means of increasing their productivity and profit. In Namibia we are starting to turn the tide — the overall population of cheetahs is now increasing in the areas in which we operate.
The work now needs to be replicated in other cheetah range countries, so that we can assure that the cheetah population around the world is stabilized, and so that future generations may continue to be fascinated by this magnificent animal. Many of the MEPs who participated in the session were interested in how the model of conservation we’re using at CCF can be deployed in European countries to address their problems with human-wildlife conflict — issues involving wolves and bears native to European countries, but badly decimated in number by many of the same factors that have worked against the cheetah population over the years.
We at CCF are looking forward to working with members of the EU Parliament, including Dan Jørgensen, vice chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. We hope to see our European friends again soon, hopefully in Namibia, where we can show them first-hand the work we’re doing, and the results that we’re achieving. Because it is still my very fervent belief that while we need the help of the whole world to save the cheetah, in doing so, the cheetah has the opportunity to help the whole world in return.
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