Have you ever wondered what keeps a dream alive or purpose afloat? I have during my time at CCF. My name is Courtney, and I am a 4th-year student studying Zoology and English at Oregon State University. My original purpose for coming to CCF was to learn about human-wildlife conflict, conservation efforts, and improve my public speaking skills. During my ten-week stay here, I have learned more about my interests, about CCF, and more about myself and my values. What keeps a dream alive and a purpose afloat is teamwork, and there is no better place to learn that than here.
During my stay here, I have met people with diverse backgrounds, attributes, and specializations, but they are all driven by the same ambition: public awareness and saving the cheetah in the wild. Every person here is needed to make our fund as successful as it is. I felt this upon my arrival here when I was asked What would you like to do? Is there a department you would like to volunteer with? I wanted to do everything and anything but specialize in Education, and my ambition was readily accepted.
I learned the cheetah run and center feeding talks, and I worked with visiting school groups (giving tours, leading activities, modifying presentations, and more). These were my favorite moments: speaking to the public during husbandry, the cheetah run, and center feeding.
I would not have been able to do this without help from fellow interns and staff members. They helped me through general tasks, gave me feedback, and assigned projects to me that were of interest! I was also able to experience unique opportunities, learning more than I had expected to! I was involved with/saw cheetah workups, blood draws, necropsies, night drives, game counts, waterhole counts, sperm collection, and moved cheetahs to new enclosures! CCF prides itself on being a learning facility, and I learned from experts in my desired career. By speaking with the public, I also began to understand new perspectives, which helped me to see why outreach and educating the public is probably the most important feature of conservation.
My favorite phrase that I heard throughout my stay at CCF was that Conservation starts at home. Our doors are open to the public so that they can understand why we want to preserve the ecosystem around us and save cheetahs. Visitors can come visit the museum, speak with tour guides or staff members, and they can watch our daily activities! All the while, they are learning about how we conserve our resources, and they learn the importance of protecting the wildlife and environment around them! Their hearts are racing when they meet our non-releasable cheetahs and slow when they learn about the Illegal Pet Trade’s influence on the population. They fall in love with our livestock guard dogs and become so intrigued when they learn that they protect their heard from potential predation. Previously, farmers used lethal measures to protect their livestock, not knowing that a lot of their losses were due to night predation (not cheetahs!). CCF invites local farmers or goes to them to talk to them about non-lethal practices: having an Anatolian Shepherd from their program to protect their livestock, keeping their animals inside at night, knowing what types of fencing to use and why, and my favorite program is their Kill ID. CCF shows farmers (with plastic props) how each predator (leopard, cheetah, wild dog, hyena, etc.) kills an animal. The farmer can look at bite marks, claw marks, location of the kill, location of bite marks, and more to conclude what animal is responsible for the kill. There are multiple ways to conserve a species while living amongst them peacefully, and CCF continues to expand and create new programs that protect the welfare of farmers and native species. Their work is never done.
Even though my day was filled with tasks (from 7:30 to 17:00), I had a warm welcome at lunch, dinner, fires, game nights, and movie nights! I was concerned that I was going to be annoyed with the people I worked with every day, but these are the best people you will ever meet. They care about you, which I truly realized when Quentin, head of the Scat Dog Detection Program, taught me self-defense! Every day brings a new adventure, and I am so happy that I was a part of the journey! I hate that I must leave, but I will never forget the stories or the memories that this wonderful facility and its staff brought to me.