By Christine Osekoski
What if the fastest animal on earth was extinct? What if it just paced in zoos with no hope of surviving in the wild because there is no habitat? What would advertisers like Epson, Hyundai and (most recently) in this year's Super Bowl) Skechers do without a universal metaphor for speed? Could we live in a world without cheetahs?
It's a question we need to ask. The cheetah's days are numbered. We are down to less than 10,000 cheetahs on the planet. In the early 1900s, there were more than 100,000. The animal cannot outrun its own vulnerability; it needs large expanses of land, expanses that no longer exist. Over 95% of cheetahs live on territories owned by farmers and ranchers. Farmers kill cheetahs because they perceive the cheetah to be the top threat to their livestock; some game hunters shoot them for sport. There is one silver lining: the cheetah has been spared from the fur industry because while beautiful, its fur is coarse.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF)--a conservation nonprofit based in Namibia--is trying to stop the cheetahs' path to extinction using innovative conservation methods that don't just focus on bleeding-heart ideas of saving the cheetah. Instead, it's finding methods that are good for cheetahs, good for the farmers, good for the communities, and good for the economy.
The CCF has started a model farm program to teach farmers how to coexist with predators. It's also breeding and placing dogs with farmers to helps protect their flocks from being eaten by wild animals. Through CCF's program, the livestock survival rate--from all predators, including hyenas, leopards, and jackals---has risen to 80%.
Second, the CCF rehabilitates the cheetah's habitat. The bush has started to encroach on the open fields on which cheetahs like to hunt. The overgrowth is also a problem for Namibian farmers. So CCF has invented what it calls BushBlok--essentially a Duraflame log made from cleared brush--which it gives to farmers as a clean energy source (the project has received attention from the Clinton Global Initiative). The country has over 100 million tons of bush that need to be cleared, and CCF hopes a wider rollout of the Bushblok initiative will help that problem, as well as create jobs for locals and more habitat for cheetahs.
By reintroducing the cats into the wild, CCF takes them back to their rightful homes. While CCF does have resident cheetahs who will be cared for their entire adult lives, these cheetahs become education ambassadors for tourists and serve to help study cheetah behavior and genetics.
The CCF's goal is to rehabilitate the cheetah so that it's no longer in danger of extinction, though it's going to need much more awareness and government support before that happens. Which it should, for no other reason than advertisers would have to find something else fast to help them sell their products.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.