Rare Breed

Can Laurie Marker help the world’s fastest mammal outrun its fate?

American Laurie Marker (with Chewbaaka, a cat she raised after it was caught in a trap as a 3-week-old) is the world's expert on cheetahs. (Suzi Eszterhas)
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Marker, whose second marriage ended in 1996, now lives with Bruce Brewer, a former curator at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo. He manages most of the day-to-day affairs at the Fund, which has grown to include dormitories, a mess hall, classrooms, research facilities and labs, a guest house and a gift shop. Marker makes fund-raising trips each year to the United States, has a satellite program in Kenya, assists cheetah conservation efforts in Algeria and Iran, trains farmers in Botswana and breeds dogs in South Africa.

Today the world cheetah population stands at about 12,500 animals in 26 countries. "We are at the lowest point in probably 9,000 years," Marker says. But she's shown that conservation can work. Namibia's share—the world's largest—stabilized a few years ago at 3,000 and is increasing slightly. This is Marker's doing. "Laurie's major contribution has been turning around the rapid loss"

"Our approach is for the community to live with its wildlife," Marker says. "But you have to give them a reason." Many ranchers in Namibia's cheetah country now encourage tourists, researchers and other animal lovers to enjoy the wildlife. "Laurie saw the bigger picture," says rancher Schneider-Waterberg. "She was talking about how the whole world was going to know about the cheetahs. And it does."

Guy Gugliotta wrote about computerizing Old Bailey court records in the April 2007 issue of Smithsonian.
Wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas lives in San Rafael, California.


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