This summer I visited Namibia to study cheetah conservation. Below is an assignment for my graduate program expressing my overarching take-away from the program. There were many amazing moments, but this summarizes my change in attitudes, beliefs, and understandings.
A 4:30 am airport pickup is early. Dean picks me up and laughs at my luggage. It's a lot, but I "need" it all. I'm going to Africa after all to work with cheetahs and see wildlife.
Finally arriving in Windhoek after twenty hours of travel. The expanse of land is immense. There is red dirt everywhere with sparse trees. I’m here, I’ve made it, I’m ready to experience it all. Driving through Namibia to Otjiwarongo, everyone on the bus can spot the wildlife except for me; I’m starting to fell discouraged.
We arrive at Cheetah Conservation Fund, and I see them, not one, but many cheetah. My first African wildlife in Africa has been seen. How could I not realize how small cheetahs are? They are quite unassuming. Their speed enables them to catch their prey, but their size leaves them undefended. Assumptions are made, cheetahs are killed, they are not perpetrators, but they are the victims.
Cheetahs are legally allowed to be killed for trespassing on the land of farmers in Namibia. It is thought that cheetahs are responsible for the killing of livestock and seen as a threat. Genetic evidence and hair analysis through cheetah scat shows cheetahs rarely kill livestock and choose other prey (Marker et al, 2003).
Cheetahs are threatened because they have lost their land; there are limited places for them to roam and 90% of cheetahs have habitats on farmlands. Cheetahs are threatened due to a lack of understanding by humans, there is not one simple solution. We can change the threatened status of cheetahs. Knowledge can change the fate of cheetahs. Holistic, multi-pronged strategies are the driving force of successful conservation.
And yes, I eventually saw wildlife!
Marker, L. L., Muntifering, J. R., Dickman, A. J., Mills, M. G. L., & Macdonald, D. W. (2003). Quantifying prey preferences of free-ranging Namibian cheetahs. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 33(1), 43-53.