One of the world’s leading experts on cheetahs in the wild, Dr. Laurie Marker, will make her first fundraising trip to St. Helena on Sunday afternoon.
Marker is a research scientist, conservation biologist and founder and executive director of Namibia’s Cheetah Conservation Fund. She’s also a friend of Anne Pentland, assistant director of Nimbus Arts, who spent two weeks at South Africa’s CCF last year, as a volunteer, living with 31 cheetahs.
Pentland said she and others got to feed the cheetahs, first trimming the horse and donkey meat that the butchers bought from local farmers. She also got to exercise them; that is, she was filming two cheetahs from the back of a pickup truck, who were chasing the truck for the pieces of liver the volunteers would throw at them.
Marker will make two stops in Northern California, one in St. Helena on Sunday that’s sold out; the second on Tuesday at Safari West. Pentland organized the Sunday afternoon event, which will be at the La Herradura Vineyards on Conn Valley Road. Joining Marker at both events will be a cheetah from Rob and Barbara Dicely’s “Wild Cat Conservation and Education Fund,” based in Occidental.
The event at Safari West, from 4 to 9 p.m., includes a silent auction, a buffet dinner and Marker’s talk. Tickets are $60 for adults, $15 for children and are available by calling 707-566-3667 or sending an email to email@example.com.
Pentland said she first met Marker at Safari West, during her annual fall tour, which begins Saturday and continues through Nov. 12. Besides several stops in California, Marker will visit New York, Washington, D.C., Ohio, Oregon, Oklahoma and Florida. Details on her itinerary, as well as the Cheetah Conservation fund can be found at cheetah.org.
Pentland studied art at U.C. Davis, raised her family in the Napa Valley, taught art for years at Calistoga Elementary School and has been at Nimbus Arts for the past decade. “As a painter, I wanted to do more than look out the window and paint the scene,” she said. “I wanted to say more. One thing I’m passionate about is wildlife conservation. I started to make all this imagery of wildlife and I began researching endangered species.”
Four years ago, she started a T-shirt company that featured images of endangered or threatened species, including elephants and cheetahs. She would send the proceeds to two people, including Marker, who was doing work in the field. The T-shirts were sold at Safari West and that’s how she met Marker, who told Pentland she should come to Africa and help.
Last year, Pentland spent a month in Africa — it was thousands of miles and dollars away and was the trip of a lifetime — including two weeks at the CCF headquarters. “I was really fortunate to be able to tour there last year,” Pentland said, “It was an amazing experience.”
The CCF is not just a refuge for cheetahs — it is a world-class cheetah research, education and conservation institution. Its size is 100,000 acres. Pentland said there are fewer than 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild. A century ago, there were 100,000 cheetahs, she added, “so we’ve lost 90 percent of the population in one century.” But, the work that Marker is doing is remarkable, helping to stabilize the wild cheetah population in Namibia and developing cheetah conservation programs in several other African country and in Iran, where the last Asiatic cheetahs are found.
Pentland spoke about Marker’s work and her decision to move to Namibia, to dedicate her life to the cheetahs, as she sat in Nimbus Arts’ studio on Main Street. It was so far removed from Namibia, yet the cheetahs and the work that Marker has done for the past decades has inspired Pentland. “She’s my personal hero and I am so touched by what she’s done.”
While Pentland was at the CCF headquarters, she said Marker sat down one day and told Pentland that she’d “like to make some friends in your neck of the woods. She’s a smart cookie, who knows that marketing is a huge part of the highly-rated nonprofit. I said let me think about it. We have board members who have beautiful property, maybe we could put an event together.”
Back in the Napa Valley, she put together the event and Marker is making her first trip to St. Helena, to meet some new people who can support the work CCF is doing. To find out more about Marker and the Cheetah Conservation Fund, visit cheetah.org.