Before becoming Executive Director of Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in 1990, Dr. Laurie Marker began her career working with cheetahs at Wildlife Safari, a wildlife park in the United States. She first traveled to South West Africa (now Namibia) while conducting research into the rewilding of captive-born cheetahs.
Dr. Marker’s research proved that cheetahs held in captivity could be taught to hunt but, more importantly, it was during this time she discovered livestock farmers were killing wild cheetah by the hundreds. Without intervention, the future of the species would be in jeopardy. For this reason, Dr. Marker decided to found CCF and move to Namibia.
Laura Lee Bushey (Dr. Laurie Marker) was born in Detroit, Michigan and lived in Birmingham, a suburb of Detroit. Her father, Ralph, came from a farming family and was an agricultural economist and accountant. Her mother, Marline, was an elementary and high school teacher and kept the family active in the community with nonprofit work.
Dr. Marker’s family moved to Southern California when she was four years-old. She spent her childhood surrounded by animals, learning how to care for horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, donkeys and goats.
Dr. Marker’s family resettled in Northern California in time for her to finish high school at age 16. She started college early, studying agriculture, enology and viticulture in Napa, California. Dr. Marker moved north to become a pioneer of the Oregon wine industry. She started a winery and a small dairy goat farm, and to support her businesses, she began working at Wildlife Safari in 1974. Her main interest from the start was the cheetah, a species little was known about and not well understood. During her 16 years at Wildlife Safari, Dr. Marker helped develop the U.S. and international captive breeding program for cheetahs (cheetah studbooks) and established the most successful captive cheetah-breeding program in North America.
In 1977 during her first trip to South West Africa (Namibia), Laurie found that livestock farmers were catching hundreds of cheetahs in cage traps and killing them. Later, research and tracking showed that during the 1980’s, farmers had killed more than 7,000 cheetahs, cutting the country’s cheetah population in half.
In the 1980’s, Dr. Marker began collaborating with researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and the National Cancer Institute on groundbreaking research. They discovered the lack of genetic diversity in the species, including very poor sperm quality and disease suitability, both of which are contributing factors to the difficulties of captive breeding.
Dr. Marker and Khayam
Khayam was born on December 4, 1976 at Wildlife Safari. Laurie raised Khayam from a newborn cub, and together they traveled to South West Africa (now Namibia) in 1977. When the pair returned to the U.S. several months later following their successful research project, they traveled regionally and nationally making public appearances to generate awareness for the cheetah’s plight. Khayam served as the first ambassador animal for her species.
Cheetah Conservation Fund
Once she determined to create a cheetah research center, Dr. Marker investigated many locations across the cheetah’s range in Africa. After Namibia gained its independence in 1990, Dr. Marker decided to make this newly-formed country the base for her frontline conservation organization focused on saving the cheetah.
Dr. Marker left her job at the Smithsonian Institution’s New Opportunities and Animal Health Sciences (NOAHS) Center and moved to Namibia. She set up CCF in a simple farmhouse and bought an old Land Rover with funds she raised from the sale of her possessions.
Awards and Honors
Ulysses S. Seal Award for Innovation in Conservation
E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Award
Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal Award
Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large, Cornell University
International Conservation Caucus Foundation(ICCF) Good Steward Award
Rainer Arnhold Fellow
The Explorers Club Lowell Thomas Award
Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement Recipient
Indianapolis Prize Finalist
BBC World Challenge Finalist
St Andrews Prize for the Environment Finalist
International Wildlife Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award
Tech Museum’s Intel Environmental Award
San Diego Zoo’s Lifetime Achievement Award
Society of Women Geographers’ Gold Medal
Indianapolis Prize Finalist
Living Desert’s Track’s in the Sand – Conservationist of the Year
Chevron-Texaco Conservationist of the Year
Sandveld Conservancy’s Certificate of Honour, Namibia
Paul Harris Fellowship, Rotary Club International, Windhoek, Namibia
Burrows Conservation Award, Cincinnati Zoo
Hero for the Planet, Time Magazine
Distinguished Leadership Award, American Biographical Institute
Conservationist of the Year, African Safari Club, Washington, DC
White Rose Award, Oregon’s Top Ten Women
National and International Activities
Steering Committee, Natural Resource Department, Namibia University of Science and Tech
Steering Committee, Greater Waterberg Complex, Namibia
Adjunct Professor, University of Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Oregon Cougar Action Team (ORCAT) Board Member
Panthera Cat Advisory Council Member
IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Core Group Member
Namibian Large Carnivore Management Forum
Conservancy Association of Namibia, Executive Committee, Vice Chair, Chair (2004-2009), current Vice Chair
Waterberg Conservancy, Executive Committee
Namibian Veterinary Association
Species Coordinator, Cheetah African Preservation Program
IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group Co-Chair
Namibian Professional Hunters Association, Rare Species Committee
IUCN/SSC, Captive Breeding Specialist Group Member
IUCN/SSC Conservation Specialist Group Member
Cheetah Species Survival Plan, Propagation Committee Advisor (AZA/SSP)
International Cheetah Studbook Keeper
Cheetah SSP, Species Coordinator
Cheetah SSP, Propagation Committee
North American Regional Cheetah Studbook Keeper
Re-introduction Research of Cheetah in Namibia