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Friday, August 22, 2014

Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa's Fastest Cat, text by Sy Montgomery and photographs by Nic Bishop. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $24.99 ages 10 and up

"Unlike the other big African cats, the cheetah doesn't roar, but chirps like a bird, mews like a kitten, purrs like a housecat (as cougars do, too) - and makes many other strange, uncatlike sounds."

Yes! Another adventure with those intrepid reporters, Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop. You know how much I admire them. This time we are in Namibia, as they do their work alongside Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund and proud advocate for 'growing the cheetah range'. How wonderful to meet her, and her band of Ambassadors and their human counterparts!

The four cheetahs dubbed the Ambassadors are two years old now, and are meant 'to teach humans about the grace and gentleness of these beautiful but persecuted predators.' When their mother was killed by a farmer, the cubs were three weeks old and too young to do anything but drink milk. They were hand raised by Laurie and her team and they can no longer be returned to the wild, but they do play an important role in raising awareness.

Maps included before the text begins show readers exactly where this story takes place, and glorious panoramic photographs almost take our breath away. As we have come to expect from Ms. Montgomery, the writing is like listening in on a warm and informal conversation. At the same time, there is much to learn and great care is taken to provide what we need to know about these magnificent cats. Mr. Bishop has captured their personalities, their beauty and the setting that is so important to their existence. I am constantly in awe of his talent to capture the most personal and captivating images for all to see.

We quickly learn that dogs and goats hold the key to the survival of the species. The Cheetah Conservation Fund raises Kangal dogs. They are a perfect breed for helping to safeguard the animals (goats, cattle and sheep) that farmers were constantly protecting by shooting the cheetahs, long deemed a threat to all. The goats the CCF raises are meant to help train the dogs for protection and to encourage Namibian farming. It's a win-win situation for all!

Laurie Marker is a wonder; a disciplined and devoted scientist whose inspiring work is deserving of the attention it gets in this terrific new addition to the Scientists in the Field series.

"She sold everything she owned in 1991 and moved to a borrowed farmhouse in rural Namibia, where 20 percent of the world's cheetahs live. She started visiting farmers and asking them questions. How often did they see cheetahs? Did the cats attack their stock? What were the farmers doing to protect their animals?

Their answers led Laurie to a surprising conclusion: "The way to save cheetahs isn't by keeping them all in national parks. The way to save cheetahs is by working with people.""

She set about doing just that, and more than twenty years later, the cheetahs are making a real comeback. Impressive, to say the least.

Meet Dr. Laurie Marker:

and learn even more about the Cheetah Conservation Fund:

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