Last week, I was lucky enough to drive to Washington, DC for some amazing events concerning my favorite big cat. The Cheetah Conservation Fund is an international organization based in Namibia, Africa and focuses on saving the cheetah from extinction. Yep, the fastest land animal is running out of time: if nothing is done, the cheetah could be extinct in 2025. CCF is one of the key leaders in cheetah preservation and conservation, research, and protection of the coolest spotted animal ever. There are several CCF chapters in the US, and there is one in DC. The DC Cheetah Conservation Fund chapter hosted a benefit in downtown DC to raise funds and awareness on behalf of CCF. In addition to the silent auction, beautiful African performances and really good shrimp cocktail, the founder of CCF was present for the event. Dr. Laurie Marker single-handedly started CCF over twenty years ago and has devoted her entire life to saving the cheetah. She is internationally considered one of the most knowledgeable concerning this cat and really illustrates a true conservationist. Basically, this translates into her being my Super Woman. Meeting Dr. Marker was one of two highlights of the evening. I hope very much to work with her in Namibia within the next year or so.
The other highlight of the evening was meeting Roe. When I arrived at the event, I managed to stumble into the wrong room. However, it was the greatest mistake, as I walked right into the room where the Columbus zoo was holding two very special animals, one of which was an 11-month old cheetah named Roe:
Roe was in a conference room, and him and I had a moment when he wasn't purring and talking with his best friend Reese, an Anatolian Shepherd. The Columbus Zoo pairs their cheetah cubs with a dog at birth so they form a natural bond. Roe and Reese are best friends.... Roe depends entirely upon Reese to calm him down. If Reese is happy, Roe is like a house cat (well, as much as the fastest land animal can be), but if Reese is on guard then Roe becomes hard to manage. The keepers present at the event were kind enough to allow me to not only ask them hundreds of questions, but interact with my first cheetah. IT WAS SO AWESOME!!!! Cheetah fur is similar to tiger fur; very coarse and short. Roe allowed me to pet him because he was hand-raised, but obviously wild cheetahs could outrun me in the attempt to do that.
Cheetahs have been extinct from India for almost sixty years, and they are endangered in Africa. They are the smallest of the big cat and are less aggressive. They tend to get bullied out of meals in the wild by larger predators, and interactions with larger cats can be fatal. They purr, unlike any other big cat, and are the only cat to not practice infanticide (baby killing). They obviously run really fast (60 mph in two seconds from rest), and they have large nostrils to allow lots of oxygen into their system. They are the coolest cats ever and I decided on this trip to forgo my dream of becoming a veterinarian in lieu of pursuing a PhD and focusing only on cheetahs and big cats. Although I've always dreamt of being a veterinarian, I don't want to study any other species for four years when I can work only with cats and cheetahs.
This decision was made with heavy influence from the Smithsonian National Zoo, where I visited on my second day in DC. The above photo is of one of the cheetahs kept at the zoo. Having never been to our nation's zoo, I explored throughout the day the many different animals, but always came back to the cheetah station. I just can't get enough of them! After my tour, I made my way to the lecture theatre, where the zoo was hosting an educational lecture on cheetahs with a panel of cheetah experts. Among these experts included the head cheetah keeper at the zoo, one of the Smithsonian's veterinarians who focused on cheetah, a cheetah reproductive physiologist, and Dr. Marker. I skipped three days of class to go to these events, and this lecture was HEAVEN compared to any kind of chocolate or scholastic lecture I need to get my bachelors. The lecture was a sort of Q & A and I learned so much valuable information as well as meeting many people in the cheetah world. I have decided that I want to look into grad school in the DC area so I can be close to the Smithsonian Zoo, which is the hub of cheetah research and conservation. I'm interested in focusing on reproductive physiology and I will eventually end up in Namibia to learn of the conservation efforts to save this amazing species.