Best of America

Saving African Cheetahs: Laurie Marker

Saving African Cheetahs: Laurie MarkerSuzi Eszterhas/Minden Pictures

Our hero: Laurie Marker, 56

Where she lives: Otjiwarongo, Namibia

How she helps: Saving Africa’s cheetahs

It takes an unusual mind to bring a wood chipper to the desert. But in her 37-year quest to help save Africa’s most endangered big cat—the cheetah—Laurie Marker is used to taking unusual steps.

Cheetahs, which move at speeds of up to 70 mph, were being blinded when they ran through the thick, prickly thornbush that is taking over Namibia’s farm- and grasslands. Unable to hunt wild game, the injured cats would then prey on livestock, causing farmers to trap them. Marker’s solution: Send in the wood chippers to chop up the brush.

The chipped thornbush is now turned into “ecoblocks,” which are sold as fuel in South Africa and Europe. Studies show that both cheetahs and displaced leopards are returning to the cleared areas.

While living in Oregon in the 1970s, Marker worked at a wildlife refuge and raised a tiger and a cheetah from infancy. They stayed with her in her mother’s guest bedroom when Marker took them on educational tours of schools in Northern California. In 1991, Marker left for Namibia, a year after founding the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).

“The cheetah—that’s her passion,” says Gregg Hudson, executive director of the Dallas Zoo in Texas and former CCF board member.

“They’re so regal,” Marker says of the endangered cat, “and they’re so smart. Cheetahs are the health of our ecosystem. If you knew a cheetah, you’d be as involved as I am.”

Visit cheetah.org to learn more about Marker’s work and the CCF.

Know a local hero? Visit American Towns to submit your nomination: americantowns.com/powerofone.

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