2015 Ulysses S. Seal Award Winner: Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund

Dr. Laurie Marker has been named the 2015 recipient of the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) Ulysses S. Seal Award for Innovation in Conservation. This award is given to those who exemplify innovation in applying science to conservation.

“Dr. Marker has, in her long career, proven herself to be a bold conservationist and a visionary leader,” said CBSG Chair Dr. Onnie Byers. “She has brought the cheetah’s plight to international attention and put the world on notice that changes must be made in the way we are living if we hope to save this species from extinction.”

The award recognizes Dr. Marker’s four decades of dedicated cheetah conservation work in southern Africa. In the early 1990’s, after discovering that there was a great need to better understand the basics of cheetah biology, behavior, and ecology, Marker packed up her life in the US and moved to Namibia. She has lived there ever since, dedicating her life to researching cheetahs, building support for the species among local populations who once saw it as a pest to be eradicated, and launching and running the Cheetah Conservation Fund, a world-class research, education, and conservation center.

Fittingly, Dr. Marker was influenced early on by Ulysses Seal, the inspiration for this award. Ulysses S. Seal was the founder of CBSG, and his great passion and talent was his creative thinking about how new science could be most effectively applied to solving the problems of wildlife conservation. He recognized and encouraged others who were also making such innovative contributions.

One of those people was Dr. Marker. They met in the mid-1980s when Ulie helped a small group of cheetah researchers lay the foundation for a science-based cheetah conservation strategy. Seal and Marker collaborated many times over the years to discuss and strategize how to save cheetahs in the wild.

“Ulie Seal encouraged me to start a nonprofit organization to implement our cheetah conservation strategy and strive to create a permanent place for cheetahs on Earth,” said Dr. Marker when she accepted the award. “Ulie planted the seed that germinated the idea in my mind that has become the hallmark of my conservation strategies, which is to employ a holistic approach that seeks to balance the needs of animals, people, and the land.”

Recognizing that the future depends on sustained land use improvements, Laurie has trained dozens of students at the undergraduate, masters, and PhD level in sustainable land practices that allow agricultural communities to coexist with large predators and other wildlife. By demonstrating that cheetahs and other wildlife have economic value and are among Namibia’s most precious natural resources, she has generated such pride among Namibians that the same people who once considered cheetahs to be vermin now declare their country to be the “Cheetah Capital of the World.”

Byers said, “Laurie Marker and CCF are a tribute to Ulie and his ability to recognize and encourage others to make innovative contributions to conservation.”


Photos: Laurie Marker/Cheetah Conservation Fund

             Ulysses S. Seal, founder and first chair of CBSG