THE Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), located near Otjiwarongo, is open to the public field research station. CCF maintains a specialised veterinary clinic, education and visitor centre, museum, cheetah sanctuary, and a model farm that promotes non-lethal predator programmes.

Besides being a tourism hotspot for cheetah lovers, CCF develops integrated programmes that enable the cheetah to live in harmony with people on the land and sets the agenda for cheetah management and conservation throughout the world.

CCF, a world leader in cheetah research and conservation practices that allow people and predators to live together, also seeks to save the wild cheetah for future generations. .

Although locally abundant, the cheetah is Africa’s most endangered big cat with a world population of perhaps 10,000 wild cheetahs. The cheetah, a top predator, is necessary to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Namibia’s cheetah population is about 3 000, the highest in the world.

The cheetah is naturally a wanderer – ranges are some of the largest reported for any land species, up to 1,600 km 2 for males and even greater for females with cubs.

These great ranges are both a danger to the species but an opportunity for biodiversity conservation. –

“If we can conserve the cheetah we are maintaining large landscapes where other species can also survive and interact. Unlike most wildlife, the cheetah is not secured by national parks. Ninety percent of all remaining populations are found outside protected areas due to conflict with larger predators which steal their prey and kill cubs.

“Since the cheetah shares the landscape with people, we teach techniques for farming which allow cheetahs to roam free while farmers raise their livestock with confidence. One of our programs is our Livestock Guarding Dog. We breed and donate Kangals and Anatolian Shepherds to farmers for the protection of sheep and goat flocks. Over 375 of these dogs have been donated to farmers since 1994,” says Dr. Laurie Marker founder of the CCF.

As cheetah survival is tied onto people’s livelihoods, there is need to find economic solutions if the world is to be successful in conservation efforts. CCF has done this through the Forrest Stewardship Council (FSC) product - Bushbok, which takes the thickened thorn bush and makes a fuel log – and can potentially allow Namibia to produce biomass electricity. Clearing thickened bush can help restore millions of hectares of Namibian savannah to its original state and improve the habitat for both the cheetah and its prey.

Education remains a key component to cheetah survival strategy. CCF has developed and presented hundreds of courses for farmers, educators and students from all over the world.

Says Marker, “We have success in educating local farmers in techniques which allow predator and potential prey to live on the same land, and many thousands of schoolchildren have heard presentations from CCF’s education officers.

“Our programmes are many and varied and we are fortunate to have government, NGO, and private collaborators. We have been part of the Namibian conservation community since 1990 and a 2008 economic impact survey revealed a N$29 million contribution to the Namibian economy.”

The cheetah is the fastest animal on land and CCF is helping it in its race for survival.

CCF has a museum that provides visitors and students the opportunity to learn more about the behaviour and biology of the cheetah, and the Namibian ecosystem that supports Africa’s most endangered cat species.

The excellent graphics and interactive displays in the centre takes the visitor through the history of the cheetah from pre-history to modern times, and explain how their range and numbers have diminished.

Other exhibitions show where the cheetah fits into the cat species family tree, how the cheetah differs from the 36 other cat species, how the cheetah is adapted for a high speed sprint and its specialised hunting techniques, and finally, the cheetah’s life-cycle from cub to adult. A life-size ‘playtree’ shows the importance of these trees in a cheetah’s territory

Visitors can learn about other aspects of conservation and the work of CCF: for example, how the cheetah lives within an ecosystem together with prey, and how farmers can live with cheetahs on their land by using non-lethal predator control methods, a prime example being the use of Kangal Anatolian Livestock Guarding Dogs from Turkey.

Farmers around Otjiwarongo and the mystic Waterberg Plateau region, a natural haven for wildlife, have formed a group to protect this unspoiled and magical area. Each ranch offers a variety of activities from the visitor, from safari game drives and wilderness trails, to cheetah viewing and visits to local Herero villages.

This whole region is an ideal stepping stone between Windhoek and Etosha National Park, the wilderness of Kaokofeld, tiger fishing on the Okavango River, or the spectacular dunes of the coast. PF