Life at CCF

Women in Science at CCF

  • by CCF Staff February 11, 2017
Women in Science at CCF

By: Ashley Flaig, Aurora Johnston, Becky Johnston, Dr. Laurie Marker, Dr. Louisa Richmond-Coggan, Nadja le Roux, Paige Seitz, Teresia Robitschko

February 11th is International Women and Girls in Science Day, so we decided to feature the women working at CCF in Namibia. These women working on the front-lines of conservation are dedicating their lives to saving the cheetah in the wild. Their life paths leading to working at CCF are as varied as the women are themselves. Please read their stories below, in their own words, and consider signing the Women in Science Manifesto by the L’Oréal Foundation and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Q: Where were you born? Did your upbringing have any influence on your desire to work with animals?

Dr. Laurie Marker: Michigan, USA – Yes, I grew up with animals. My family was involved in farming. I took the Future Farmers of America course electives in high school. These experiences helped inform my understanding of good agricultural management practices and led to me developing the Future Farmers of Africa training course at CCF. I have been an avid horseback rider my whole life (I could ride before walk) and always had a horse in my back yard – and I still do! I also had several dogs and lots of rabbits.

Teresia Robitschko: I was born in a small village in Southern Germany, which is surrounded by beautiful nature. We spent lots of our summer holidays in nature areas, or National Parks, which has influenced me to choose to work in the area of conservation.

Paige Seitz: I was born in Reading, Pennsylvania. My whole life I grew up with animals and have always loved them and shared a special connection with them.

Ashley Flaig: South Florida – I always had a fascination with animals, starting with horses and then moving to big cats. I started working at a horse stable on the weekends when I was 11 years old in trade for horseback riding lessons. Also, I love the history of the Florida panther and how conservationists brought it back from the brink of extinction and from that I have always wanted to be involved in big cat conservation. I love the cheetah because it’s a sprinter and when I was in high school I was also a sprinter for the track team. Plus, they are such beautiful animals.

Nadja Le Roux: I was born in Swakopmund, a coastal town in Namibia.

Louisa Richmond-Coggan: I was born in the UK, in the south west in a small village called Blagdon that was situated in a valley with a large lake surrounded by in the green rolling countryside. I always had pets from rabbits and hamsters to ponies so I grew up around animals. I had my own pony for 10 years which taught me many life lessons one being taking responsibility. We also used to visit Bristol Zoo to see the more exotic animals found around the world which was always great fun.

Becky Johnston: I was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I have also lived in Vancouver and Ontario. I have always loved animals, and my parents would often bring me to the zoo or aquarium as a child, which I think helped spark my interested.

Q: Where, and in what year(s) did you complete your undergraduate and graduate/veterinary studies?

LM: I completed my undergraduate degree in 1989 in the United States. Then after many years of working with the cheetah in the field, both in the U.S. and Africa, I earned my PhD. from the University of Oxford in the UK in 2002. It was so much fun going “back to school,” an experience I think I appreciated much more because of the years that had passed in between.

TR: I completed my undergraduate degree in Wildlife Management at the Van Hall Larenstein University in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands from 2008 – 2012.

PS: I completed my undergraduate degree in Biology with a specialization in Zoology at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, PA from 2007-2011.

AF: I graduated in 2011 with a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Environmental Policy from the University of South Florida, Tampa and I graduated and became certified in Veterinary Technology in 2014 from St. Petersburg College, Tampa.

NLR: I never went into tertiary education. I was never an academic and I had a passion for people and conservation so I took the first opportunity I could by going straight to work with Wilderness Safaris who are renowned for their tourism efforts in community development.

LR-C: I complete my BSc in 2004 (2.1 Hons) with a major in geography and a minor in biology from Lancaster university, UK. My dissertation, to determine the impact of spotted hyaenas on the movements and behaviour of resident cheetahs inside the Mara Triangle, Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Was based on a six-week study conducted into cheetah movements and behaviour in relation to spotted hyaena presence across the Mara Triangle.

BJ: I attended the University of Calgary from 2011-2015

Q: Did you participate in research or internships during your undergraduate or post-graduate studies?

LM: My life has been wrapped around a long-running research project since the mid-1970’s… or at least it feels this way. Ever since I encountered my first cheetah, I have been on a quest to study and learn as much about this beautiful, mystical creature as possible. My research has been a combination of in situ and ex situ studies focusing on the biomedical, morphological, reproductive and genetic status of the cheetah in Namibia; cheetah habitat use; home range and demographic rate; census techniques, and ecological monitoring of game species through game counts. The title of my 2003 PhD. project was Aspects of Cheetah Biology, Ecology and Conservation Strategies on Namibian Farmlands. It was a culmination of all my research.

TR: I completed several internships during my studies. I interned for one month at the hoofstock section at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland during my first year of studies. In my second year of studies I completed an internship of 5 months at 2 research centers in Thailand, one focused on mammals, the other one focused on marine mammals. I came to CCF as an intern during my last year of university where I spent 5 months interning at CCF, focusing on human wildlife conflict and being involved with all the day to day activities of CCF.

PS: I completed an internship working at a sanctuary with numerous species, in North Carolina my junior year of college. I also volunteered throughout my time at college at an animal shelter. I completed an internship at CCF right after earning my degree to gain more experience.

AF: Every summer I participated in an internship. The first one in 2008 was at Palm Beach Zoo, in 2009 at Panther Ridge Conservation Center, in 2010 Cheetah Outreach, South Africa, 2011 White Oak Conservation Center.

NLR: I spent every holiday I could from 12 years old working at as many organizations as I could. From the SPCA, to a bird of prey rehabilitation and education center and had my first (of many comebacks) at CCF when I was 16.

LR-C: During my gap year I was a volunteer on a 3-month research project with Frontier in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania conducting a variety of ecological studies, which was an amazing experience. It showed me that I could live and work in Africa and I knew then that this would be where my career would be based as I had fallen in love with the continent, its wildlife and people. There are two links below to my other publications.
Dissertation: Assessing wildlife distribution and population trends in the Greater Mara Ecosystem, Kenya: the synergistic effects of landscapes and threats.
Thesis: Comparative abundance and ranging behaviour of brown hyaena (Parahyaena brunnea) inside and outside protected areas in South Africa.

BJ: I was a research assistant for three years during my undergraduate degree. I worked with a PhD student working with Alaskan three-spine stickleback (a fish native to northern coastal waters).

Q: What made you decide to pursue a career in the veterinary sciences/wildlife conservation?

LM: I originally set out to become a different kind of scientist, a winemaker (you might chuckle but this is a science that involves chemistry, sampling and experimentation with agricultural concepts). I wanted to be part of the wine industry in Oregon, which at the time, was just taking off. I took a job as a vet tech at Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon to help fund my grape-growing operation. But then I met my first cheetah and I quickly forgot about the wine. Cheetahs needed help. When I tried to find information on cheetahs I came up with very little. So there was an information gap that needed to be filled, Then when I went to Africa to get the answers, I encountered the conflict between farmers and cheetahs in Namibia. I tried to find other people or organizations to help stop this, but failed. The field of conservation was new back then. My cheetah research collaborators and myself were some of the first conservation biologists. After a decade of coming up against brick walls, I knew I had to go to Namibia and do this myself.

TR: I was always interested in nature & animals when growing up, especially since we lived close to a forest and big lake, so I was surrounded by beautiful nature. During school I could not quite decide which direction I should head (veterinarian, biologist, ecologist etc.) and finally ended up finding the study Wildlife Management, which combined a variety of subjects, I was interested in and also had a management component, I thought can always be useful, even when not working with conservation. I have always had a special interested in big cats & Africa, and my dream was to work and live there one day. While being an intern at CCF during university, I fell in love this this place, and learned so much about what it takes to be a conservation organization, and that it involves many more aspects that I could have ever imagined. After finishing university, I worked at a small conservation organization, and the environmental ministry in Germany, but had always want to come back to CCF.

PS: My whole life I knew I wanted to work with animals, just wasn’t quite sure in what field. I thought maybe I would become a vet, but then I decided it wasn’t the best idea as I pass out at the sight of blood, so that option was out. Then in high school I decided I wanted to do big cat research in Africa, however I also loved animal care. I just had this urge to go somewhere in Africa and work in a new place. I wanted to work to make a difference in the world of animals. Right after my undergraduate degree, I got an internship at CCF and with my dog experience, I helped a lot with the livestock guarding dog (LGD) program. I was an intern at CCF for 7 months. For the first few months I wished I was doing more work with the cheetahs, but then something hit me and I realized research really wasn’t my thing. I ended up falling in love with the LGD program and realized I was helping save my favorite big cat using my other favorite animal, the dog. I also fell in love with goats, which are a major part of our model farm and dog development. This internship allowed me to work in the conservation field, but care for animals which is where my heart really lies. The LGD program is such an innovative way to help people and work to save a species. After my internship, I wanted to stay at CCF to work, but there were no jobs available so I went home for 1.5 years and then returned in December 2013 to manage the LGD program. I finally had my dream job and knew this is where I belonged.

AF: I chose biology and environmental policy because I wanted to work with wildlife and I truly believe the policy level is very important. I decided to reroute to veterinary technology because I had one of the animals I was taking care of at the time pass away in my arms because I didn’t know what to do to save her. I decided I would never put myself in that position again and animal health has become a passion for me.

NLR: Due to my parents work in community development and conservation I was exposed to the sector at a very impressionable age. I grew up in a movement of like-minded people such as Dr. Marker who were part of developing the strong conservation ethics we have in my country. This instilled in me a great sense of responsibility towards my people and our natural resources.

LR-C: I was very lucky from the age of about 15 I knew that I wanted to be a conservationist and help to protect wildlife around the world from disappearing forever. I was inspired by all of the BBC wildlife documentaries and of course David Attenbrough. By living in the countryside I loved being outside in any weather, away from towns and cities, so being drawn to large open landscapes that are found across Africa was the next natural step.

BJ: I have always wanted to work with animals, but only recently have become interested in wildlife conservation. I wanted to work hands-on with animals, so was pursuing a job in a zoological facility or wildlife rehabilitation facility after I graduated from university.

Q: How long have you worked with CCF? What do you like the most about living in Namibia?

LM: I founded CCF 27 years ago in Namibia, and have lived here permanently since 1991. It is one of the most incredible places on Earth. The geography Is amazing. The people are warm and so, so friendly. The government is exceptionally supportive; they truly believe in conservation. It’s a part of the country’s constitution. Plus, we have the greatest number of wild cheetah in Namibia, which means there is always a lot of action at CCF.

TR: I have worked at CCF for about 2.5 years now, and living in Namibia is way different than living in Europe or the US, but it is a beautiful country with great people! Namibia even has conservation in its institution, and is a leader in conservation.

PS: I have worked at CCF for 3 years now. I love living in Namibia because it’s a beautiful place with great people and it’s a leading country in conservation. The people of Namibia work very hard to support their country in the goal to conserve their wildlife.

AF: I started in August 2016 as the Senior Cheetah Keeper and Veterinary Nurse. The thing I love most, besides the wildlife! is the sunsets and the stars. They are spectacular.

NLR: I have been at CCF for 4 months now, but I have been within the CCF network and family since I was 16. I have come home. I am Namibian, we have clear beautiful skies with stars you can touch. Our air is clean, our people are friendly and our land is pure.

LR-C: 2 years and 4 months, I love Africa, I feel in love with the continent when I was 19 and so living in Namibia is fantastic. The wildlife and landscapes are amazingly diverse. There is so much extreme fitted into one country from dunes next to the sea, Etosha pan and forests. The people are friendly and welcoming.

BJ: I started as an intern in January 2016, and got hired on as a full time staff member in August 2016. I love the wide open spaces of Namibia, and living out in the middle of nowhere far from large, busy cities. I also love the diversity of the landscape, which can change drastically depending on where you are in Namibia.

Q: What type of interactions do you perform daily to achieve your career goals?

LM: I manage an international organization. This means I not only work on the ground in Namibia, but I also work with people worldwide, all on cheetah related issues from working with farmers in Namibia, to working with research staff in doing census, to working with partner organizations in other countries in their programs such as trying to stop the illegal wildlife trade, to working with communities and the governments. I do keep hands on with research on wild cheetah ranges and biomedical and genetic work, as well as assist with the CCF goat herd and livestock guarding dogs if needed. But, I have great staff, so a lot of my time is planning with them. We have a staff of over 100 people in Namibia, so, I work with our managers to help them with their programs. I also work with our partner organizations in various countries including working closest with our CCF USA team in fundraising and awareness building.

TR: I am involved with all the activities at CCF, not only with CCF Namibia, but CCF USA and international partners around the world. Learning and being involved as much as possible with all the various projects we do, gives me lots of opportunity to expand my knowledge.

PS: The biggest thing is making sure our breeding dogs are healthy, without healthy dogs to breed, we cannot produce puppies to provide to farmers and continue helping to mitigate human wildlife conflict. Also just communicating with farmers to continue to spread the word of our successful program throughout Namibia.

AF: I help the veterinarian with any procedures happening in the clinic. I also like teaching the interns the importance of animal health care and I love watching them fall in love with the cheetahs. I also do project management and public interaction and education.

NLR: I focus a lot on our interns, on being a role model. I believe strongly in the networking and sharing of data and projects with our stakeholders and colleagues to maximize our efforts. I try to have conversations with our international staff on a daily basis to remind them of the importance of each person’s efforts here at CCF and how it impacts such a bigger and broader issue. We are trying to save the Cheetah to save the world. My role is an educator; my role is to make us all aware.

LR-C: On daily basis I work with a wide range of people, from my team members in ecology and my colleagues across the CCF departments but also farmers, government, fellow NGOs and many more. Without all these positive relationships I could not move the objectives of CCF and the ecology department forward.

BJ: I get to work hands on with all the animals here at CCF – cheetahs, dogs, goats, sheep and horses. Daily husbandry tasks include not only feeding the animals, but also checking them over to make sure there are no medical issues. If problems do arise, I get to be involved in treatment of that animal, whether we bring it to the clinic for our vet to treat, or administer antibiotics in a treat to the injured or sick animal. I am also learning a lot about how to enter records and data into programs like ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System). These skills will be useful if I want to apply for a job at a zoo or other wildlife facility later in the future.

Q: Did you have any role models in your field of interest growing up?

LM – Over the course of my career I have had the great fortune of being mentored and trained by several amazing conservationists. The one who stands out most in my mind is Dr. Ian Player, noted for saving the white rhino. And, of course Dr. Jane Goodall, for her groundbreaking work with the behavior of chimps. As a female leading the way in species conservation, I found her work to be very inspirational.

TR: When growing up I read all the books I could find about Africa, it’s animals, and of course scientists working in Africa (meaning I read books by Diane Fossey, Jane Goodall, and one of my favorites were the Born Free books), but I never had a role model.

PS: Truthfully, I didn’t know much about conservation growing up, I just loved animals. With my job, I get to learn about conservation and participate in it by providing puppies to farmers, but I mostly do animal care and administration work. It’s kind of the best of both worlds for me. I learn new things every day, but get to physically interact with animals, which is a necessity in my life.

AF: My father was a huge role model for me when it came to pursuing my education and taking risks. My mother was a huge role model when it came to working hard and pursuing my passion.

NLR: Dr. Laurie Marker was one of the first female conservationists I met that literally changed my life. Others would also be Garth Owen-Smith and Dr. Margaret Jacobson (both with Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation – IRDNC) as well as Karine Nuulimba. My parents have always been an inspiration to me and role models. Along they way I have been inspired by many other people, colleagues I have worked with, the communities I have worked in and the rangers I have worked with. The dedicated, committed people we come across in this field are all inspiring.

LR-C: As a Brit in wildlife there is really one role model that stands out, David Attenbrough. By showing the variety life all over the world in his BBC documentaries he inspired me to see how interconnected everything is, he made me care about it and then finally to spend my entire career working to keep wildlife on our planet.

BJ: Brian Keating (former director of conservation at the Calgary Zoo) was a role model for me. I loved hearing him talk, because he was also so passionate about the projects he was part of. He engaged everyone in the audience, and could make even the smallest animal seem like the coolest animal on the planet (he would always talk about dung beetles). At every talk or presentation, he showed his own personal pictures from his trip, which made me really want to travel the world and get involved in conservation projects when I finished university.

Q: Do you have any goals while working with CCF? What are some career goals you have achieved or wish to achieve?

LM: The goal of CCF is to create a permanent place for cheetahs on this planet, and to find a way for people and wildlife to not just coexists, but flourish. I always say that the end game for CCF is to go out of business… meaning we are no longer needed, because everything is working in harmony as it should. But for now, I wish to save the cheetah for future generations. I have achieved many of my career goals, in terms of my research. I have conducted research and published baseline research on cheetah, and then expanded the research to applied conservation. I did finish my PhD. (that was monumental). I have also publishing more than 75 research papers. As far as goals yet to be achieved, I want the world to realize that the cheetah is in need of a global program, an effort involving all stakeholders – and that is all of us — if we are to save the species.

TR: One of my goals was to come back and work for CCF which I achieved, but I do want to continue my studies.

PS: One of my biggest career goals was to come back and work with the LGD program, so I have achieved that. I would like to help expand the program in to more regions of Namibia and we are slowly working on this as it takes time to expand projects properly.

AF: My main goal at CCF is making sure all of our older cheetahs live a long, and healthy life. It is hard taking care of geriatric animals because we want them to be healthy while not suffering. I also want to get a donations program restarted in the clinic.
As a career, I would love to work with a variety of species whether that is in a zoological facility or with a wildlife veterinarian in the field.

NLR: I am very happy with the experience I have gained over the last 13 years. I chose a path that started me right at the bottom and I have worked my way up. I’m not so much career orientated as I am passionate about making change. The success I measure myself against are the successes of the people I work with and the communities that benefit and manage their resources sustainabley.

LR-C: To learn more about sustainable utilization, conservation hunting and community based conservation and after two years I feel that I have achieved that, which makes more effective in my role as head of ecology. My singular goal that has shaped by career so far and will continue to do so is to use rigorous scientific data to inform practical management solutions on the ground, to make a difference where it matters most, in the communities.

BJ: Part of my job here at CCF is the International Cheetah Studbook, which involves talking to all the facilities around the world who have cheetahs at their facility. Dr. Marker over time has built up relationships with these zoos, and I hope to continue building on that relationship and sharing of information between facilities. One of my goals when I first arrived here was to gain hands on experience with animals, which I have achieved over the past year, but want to continue working on. I want to continue to build on the relationships I have with all the cheetahs and dogs at CCF.

Q: Did you run into any hardships during your years of studies?

LM: No, nothing that was insurmountable. Just the same problems I have now, which is having enough time in the day to accomplish all that I want to do. The older you get the more you realize how important time management and planning are to achieving overall success.

TR: Not really, I had a great support system of family and friends, and studied at a great university. The most difficult thing for me though, was to decide where to go for internships, as there were many options, and it was not always easy to find a suitable & affordable place to go.

PS: Thankfully, I did not. I had a lot of support from family, friends, and colleges.

AF: Organic Chemistry and Physics.

NLR: I’m so proud, but humbled at the achievements my country has made. However, I am extremely concerned at the lack of concern by humanity at the vulnerability of our natural resources and ecosystems. Even my fellow Namibians are not aware of the conservation efforts and successes in our country. The hardships have not always been to get the communities and rural people to change their views about wildlife and the importance of its conservation as it has been getting the buy in from our more commercial or city dwelling people.

LR-C: I don’t think that you can undertake a degree, masters and PhD without facing some hardships. For my PhD I lived and worked in South Africa in an Afrikaans farming community which was very challenging due to the language barriers. I completed all my data collection on my own which included multiple field seasons some of them lasting up to a year, it was a lot of responsibility to ensure the project was a success. Working in Africa every day your plans can change so you have to be very adaptable, think on your feet and solve problems quickly to ensure that your study is not affected.

BJ: I was taking five classes in my first and second year of university. Especially in second year, the course load became too much. I was working until the early hours of the morning every day, and not sleeping well because of stress, which only made school that much more difficult. I was also involved in extracurricular activities which took up a lot of time, but I really enjoyed. In the end, I decided to only take four classes for my last couple of years of school, which meant that I finished in four and a half years instead of the usual four. But I had more time to focus on the individual classes, and ended up receiving better grades in each class because of that. I was also still able to do my activities outside of school, which was a much needed break from textbooks and lectures every week. Time management was a huge skill I learned in my years at university, but also learning where your limits lie, and what can happen when you try and take on too much. It’s not all about school – also find time in your life for yourself and to do activities you enjoy.

Q: What advice do you have for young women who wish to pursue a career in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) field?

LM: As important as it is to have women represented in STEM fields, you must develop a strong foundation in critical thinking, reading and writing, because communication is a big part of the field. You need to be able to express your findings and your opinions. Being precise in your words is very important, especially in your writing.

TR: I would say internships and networking is the most important thing you can do. Lots of time you will learn the theoretical part of something during university, but doing internships shows you really what it takes to be a biologist or researcher, and this will help you to decide if this is the career path you want to continue or not. During internships you make lots of connections and having a good network is very important, especially in the field of conservation. Going to conferences and volunteering for organizations is a good way to go as well.

PS: My biggest piece of advice would be to never give up! There will be people in the world who will tell you to move on and pursue something that is more “logical” and financially sound, but don’t listen to them. Follow your dream no matter how crazy other people think it is. Believe in yourself and know that you can do whatever you set your mind to. I know I just said a lot of cheesy cliques, but they really are true. Sometimes the simplest phrases, can have the biggest impact.

AF: Work HARD. Always volunteer to stay after hours or to help with any project even if it seems mundane. Work ethic and passion does stand out. Ask the appropriate questions and apply yourself: what’s the worst that can happen? Someone tells you “no”? Take risks, but always make smart choices. BUDGET! Save every penny you can because one day you’ll have to buy a plane ticket to pursue your dream job.

NLR: Conservation is a passion, a calling, a commitment, a life. Stand strong, be empathetic, listen to people, have a strong support network, Learn, Learn, Learn and don’t judge. Ego will get you nowhere. Conservation is a selfless act that requires sacrifices and humility because it’s bigger than we will ever be.

LR-C: We always need dynamic and driven women to enter the scientific community. If they do they will find it very rewarding and never dull as there is always something new to learn.

BJ: Take any opportunities you can. Talk to your professors and teachers in university to see if they have any contacts that they can put you in touch with in terms of getting a job or internship. Don’t be afraid to send out a lot of resumes or applications, and don’t worry when you get rejected for a few or never hear back from some. Just keep trying, and you never know what might come along. I never expected to be able to work in Africa with cheetahs every day, and it wouldn’t have happened had I not applied on a whim one day after sending out over 100 resumes and cover letters to other facilities.

Q: What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had while working with CCF?

LM: Knowing that I have created a worldwide organization to save the cheetah for future generations to come is the most rewarding experience I could ever ask for. And influencing other people to join the mission — leading a team great people who have decided to make my mission their own — is truly satisfying.

TR: There are lots of rewarding moments when working at CCF, starting from Namibian schoolkids coming to CCF who have never seen a cheetah before, to releasing orphaned cheetahs back in to the wild and seeing that they adapt well in their new environment.

PS: My job is very rewarding as I get to help people by providing them with a solution to a problem. Getting to meet some of the farmers and seeing their faces filled with excitement over how their dog is helping to mitigate human wildlife conflict on their farm is the greatest thing!

AF: Meeting all the wonderful people who work here and all the amazing interns that come through. We have a great, supportive community out here in the middle of nowhere.

NLR: Watching Namibian interns have a life changing moment, and it’s usually just a moment when everything clicks into place, and realize this is their calling and developing the passion required for the resilience needed when working in conservation.

LR-C: Seeing my department grow, when I arrived it was myself and a colleague and now we are a team of four. Together we have been able to start high impact projects covering large areas, multiple cultures and carnivore species which will advance our understanding of carnivores across Namibia. This, will lead to better practical management solutions for farmers so they can live in coexistence with wildlife.

BJ: Getting to know the animals has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me. Yes, to most of them I am just the lady that brings the food every day, but I like to think there is more to it than that. It is wonderful to hear the Ambassador cheetahs purr as you walk by them, or have Ron not hiss at you one day after he has always hissed at you during center feeding. I also love interacting with the visitors who have never seen a cheetah before. They have so many great questions, and are in awe of them, much as I was when I first arrived.

Q: Do you run into any challenges while working with wild animals?

LM: Working with wildlife is unpredictable, and the African landscape is harsh and unforgiving. You must remember to put safety first. If you are in the field, be aware of all the animals and your surroundings – not just the ones you are there to observe. In a clinical setting, be sure you are following safety protocols to the letter. They are there to benefit both you and the animal.

TR: I don’t directly work with the cheetahs most of the time.

PS: I work with domestic animals, so this is not a problem for me.

AF: Animal behavior is key. Being able to change plans in an instant will happen and you have to be flexible. Remembering that safety is always first and if that means you can’t participate in a cool activity, so be it. Safety is of utmost importance.

NLR: Morally, I do not believe captivity is conservation. That is a broader debate to be had. But every time we receive additional cheetahs that are not releasable, or I see the numbers growing, it’s a bitter reminder that it’s a result of human wildlife conflict and these animals are not what I believe are “the lucky few to be saved”. The cheetah we have in the wild are the lucky ones. Just having cats that can’t be re-wilded because they came to us too young, or were confiscated out of the illegal pet trade makes me angry and probably fuels the fire to keep going.

LR-C: The work of an ecologist means that you have to out in the bush, looking at tracks, setting up cameras, checking water sources. In Africa every trip into the field is dangerous as there are leopards and other dangerous animals that you have the potential to come into contact with. This is what we train for and we have developed our skills in order for us to be able to conduct our work safely. I have bumped into elephants, rhino and lions whilst working in protected areas in South Africa and all of them ended with me successfully returning to my car!

BJ: Cheetahs are typical cats – we cannot make them do anything they do not want to do. They do everything on their own terms, in their own time. It can be frustrating at times, but has taught me a lot of patience.

Q: Do you have a favorite resident cheetah at CCF?

LM: It is difficult to choose, as they are all very special. I have raised many of the ones living in our sanctuary from young cubs. The ambassador cheetahs are my favorites, and among them, TigerLily is my very special “cheetah friend.”

TR: Yes, my favorite cheetah is Phoenix, he is absolutely beautiful and knows he is, and has the loudest purr of all of them. My favorite animal at CCF however is Hercules, our Livestock Guarding Dog Ambassador who I helped to raise.

PS: I am going to change this question to, “Do you have a favorite resident LGD at CCF?” And why yes I do – I love all the dogs, but Uschi, our older female working dog, and I have had a special bond since the first day we met.

AF: Being the Senior Cheetah Keeper I am not allowed to. However, I sometimes a select few get an extra treat from me. I absolutely adore our wild cheetah cubs because I know one day they will be back into the wild and I know I was a part of their lives, even for a moment. They are the beautiful future of the wild cheetah.

NLR: Sandy. Sandy is special to me. She was a cub when I first came to CCF and she is still here almost 17years later. She’s the second oldest cat at CCF. I was blown away that she is still here.

LR-C: Merlin – as he is the only cheetah on a human-carnivore conflict case I have ever agreed to pick up due to medical issues. A damaged left ankle joint meant he had become a problem animal and he was catching goats 100m from the farmhouse so not normal cheetah behaviour. As my job is to keep wild cheetahs wild, even when they are in cage traps, I have to work as hard as possible to get that cheetah released again back into the wild.

BJ: Darwin is one of my favourites. He is very laid back and quiet, which is very much like me. He stays out of any drama that might be happening and waits patiently for his food every day.

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