By Dr. Laurie Marker and Jen Newlin
I recently returned to Namibia, after my Fall Tour of the U.S., and was met with some very sad news. Longtime resident cheetah and visitor favorite Dusty had passed away. Dusty lived with us at CCF in Namibia since 2000. She was loved by everyone and will be dearly missed. I asked one of Dusty’s greatest admirers, Jen Newlin, to write the following blog post.
-Dr. Laurie Marker
There is a framed photo on my desk. It captures the moment I met Dusty and Blondi—when I was led into their enclosure. My heart beating quickly. Child in me celebrating. Meeting a cheetah, the species I’d loved for so long.
With a heavy heart I just learned that Dusty, at 14 years old, passed away. CCF staff believe it was from a snake bite. At 14, Dusty certainly lived a long and lovely life at CCF. But—like so many of us who knew and loved her—I ache.
Ten years ago I lived and worked at the CCF headquarters in Namibia. And, several days a week, I was part of the team that needed to “run” three cats: Dusty, Blondi and Sandy.
With a CCF-built a lure system modeled after greyhound racing, we’d set up inside their large enclosure and run the cheetahs to keep them fit and healthy.
The morning run was part of my routine. I’d also spend time before dinner, with the sun low and shadows long, sitting and sketching outside their enclosure. Catching a purr. A roll. A pace. Through the years I got to know Dusty and others. And, just maybe, they got to know me, too.
I remember walking by the enclosure one afternoon and seeing all three females huddled together. Heads down. Looking at something. Unsure what may have grabbed their attention (and wanting to make sure they were safe) a keeper and I went inside. Carefully we approached—expecting a snake. Instead? It was a break in a buried waterline. And the cheetahs? Were being cats. And batting at a small stream of water with their paws. We couldn’t help but laugh.
Dusty and Blondi, sisters, were born in May 2000 and came to CCF when they were just three months old, having lost their mother. A Windhoek veterinarian brought them to their new home at CCF. Without their mother to teach them survival skills, they were unable to live as wild cheetahs.
Me? I want cheetahs to be wild. But I’ll be forever grateful for ambassadors like Dusty.
My framed photo is a hallmark of that powerful time in my life—becoming my childhood dream and working directly with the species I care about. But it’s also my daily reminder. To continue to be the voice for those who have none. No matter my vocation, that—this—will always be my calling.
Thank you Dusty.
– Jen Newlin