Unprecedented in its efforts to ensure the perpetual existence of the cheetah in its irresistible beauty and unmatchable elegance, Namibia has undoubtedly smashed a hit record as the world’s leading cheetah conservancy harbouring the largest cheetah population.
And by no doubt, the colossal efforts invested in this epic battle to make the Namibian citizenry concede equal citizenship with this endangered yet magnificent cat has brought the world’s undivided attention to Namibia, and theirs is the noble mandate to learn how it has been done in this pocket of Africa.
Before the first world war, an estimated 100 000 cheetahs roamed the wilds, playing their bold role in the jungle-theaters of survival and thus carrying out their natural function in the ecosystem yet in the last 60 years they have become extinct in 25 of the 45 countries where they once lived.
Yet deep in the pockets of South West Africa, the cheetah found solace in the Namibia’s unforgiving desert, adapting to the vagaries of weather and climate, finding the warmest reception from a people who dedicated everything to save it from the manacles of extinction.
It is here that the largest cheetah population is hosted, about a third of the world’s declining population.
In a quest to come to the answer of how Namibia has brought itself to the fore as home to a specie which everywhere else is fast dwindling into an abysmal extinction, Prime Focus Magazine catches up with one, Laurie Marker, who is the face of the entire struggle to save the cheetah since setting up the iconic Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in 1991.
“What is left of the cheetah population must be saved to protect the species from extinction, the Namibian population of cheetahs is now estimated at about 3 500, nearly doubling in the past 24 years due to the joint efforts of the Namibian government and communities in support of CCF’s work,” Marker tells Prime Focus.
So, what exactly has Namibia done that the world can emulate to come to such a puzzling number when everywhere else poachers are on the prowl, farmers are hitting back at the cats they consider them an enemy to live stock while elsewhere they are dying from gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach caused by the Helicobacter spiral bacteria?
According to Marker, the answer is found in education, proactivity, political will, science and research and simply the love of the animal by all demonstrated by the zeal to make the vulnerable cat compatible with human life to create a beautiful paradox.
“High-tech Life Technologies Conservation Genetics Laboratory in Namibia continue to conduct non-invasive genetic monitoring of cheetah populations in Namibia. The lab uses scat collected by the CCF Scat Detection team for DNA and hormone analyses,” says Marker.
Speaker of Parliament Peter Katjavivi, who is also International Patron for the CCF, a position once held by Namibia’s founding father Sam Nujoma, said government through the tourism ministry continues to support cheetah conservation efforts through active participation and taking centre stage in a cocktail of activities aimed at fostering the growth of the cheetah population.
As part of government drive to invest in the conservation of the cheetah, Katjavivi this year launched the Namibian Conservation Parliamentary Caucus (NACOPAC), a multiparty collaboration of parliamentarians’ commited to strengthening governance and sustainable economic development in Namibia and the region.
Namibia’s conservation efforts have seen the educating of the many farmers who consider cheetahs as having an excessing economic impact on their livestock and wild game industries, to come to the realization that one can live with the world’s fastest cat yet protecting his/her livestock.
“Farmers hold the future of the cheetah in their hands, so one of the focuses is on Human and Wildlife Conflict Resolution,” says Ward.
And the world has a lot more to learn from Namibia especially in the regard that while the survival of the spotted cats is necessitated by the availability of a habitat and a healthy prey base, assessment of cheetah behavior, findings on prey preferences and home ranges must bring out research results that must be shared with farmers.
Environment and Tourism Deputy Minister, Tommy Nambahu, says that while other countries are not as fortunate as Namibia and their cheetah are endangered and extinct, there is still need for a collective responsibility to maintain a balance on human life and environmental conservation.
“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we achieve a balance between environmental conservation and livelihoods of human beings. In order to achieve this, we need to continue the search to find sustainable ways in which nature and human beings can co-exist peacefully,” he says.
While Namibia’s conservation fund continue working to save the cheetah through integrated and multi-disciplined conservation, research and education programmes, thereby making an indelible mark in the story of cheetah conservation for the world to emulate, the world’s cheetah capital still faces some challenges.