When I first traveled to Namibia in the 1970's, and met the farmers raising cattle, sheep and goats on the unforgiving grasslands, I learned that not everyone shared my fascination with the cheetah as an icon of speed and grace. The farmers there had a label for cheetahs, who they perceived as a threat to their livelihoods -- "vermin." And they treated the cheetah like they would any pest -- they tried to exterminate it.
Changing this label in the minds of the farmers that live alongside the cheetah has been critical to our work at Cheetah Conservation Fund. We provide Livestock Guarding Dogs to protect their herds from predators, including cheetahs. We teach animal husbandry, predator identification, herd and veld management, disease and vaccination programs and business principles. We demonstrate alternative income opportunities, like how to make goat cheese at our Dancing Goat Creamery. By reducing predation against their herds and improving their income, we've changed their feelings about the cheetah. Many now see the cheetah not as "vermin," but as an important part of the ecosystem, and as a wildlife treasure that can foster tourism and economic development. We call this predator-friendly farming.
When I was in San Francisco receiving TIME Magazine's Heroes for the Planet award in 2000 I learned about a predator friendly fund established by Defenders of Wildlife. The fund assists ranchers, property owners and communities throughout North America to live successfully and responsibly with carnivores. I continued my research on the topic, and in 2003, with the help of CCF volunteer David Bell, we created a label for cattle farmers to use -- "Cheetah Country Beef." We wanted to empower consumers to choose products that supported sustainability and farmers using predator-friendly farming practices could obtain premium pricing as a reward for their efforts.
In March of 2007 I was invited to attend an event called the "Summit on Wildlife Friendly Enterprise" at the beautiful White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee, Florida. Representatives from eight countries attended this groundbreaking event. At the Summit's conclusion, we formalized the Steering Committee for the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN) to promote wildlife conservation through facilitation and certification of responsible production practices, enterprise development, education and branding. CCF became a co-founder and David Bell now represents us on the Steering Committee.
In 2009, WFEN became a standalone non-profit and formed a Board of Directors on which CCF serves. Certified Wildlife Friendly® is now working to spread its predator friendly ranching toolkit throughout North America as well as continuing their global work. CCF continues to play an important leadership role on the Board. Certified Wildlife Friendly® is setting the global standard for wildlife friendly enterprise and assisting its members to reach new and dynamic markets.
This week at CCF, we're proud to be involved in the launch of a new label, one that will help the cheetah. Our Dancing Goat Creamery products and our Bushblok fuel log have both been approved to carry the Certified Wildlife Friendly® label for the cheetah. Consumers can look for the label and know that the product they are purchasing has been made by an organization that is meeting Certified Wildlife Friendly's guidelines for promoting cheetah conservation through responsible production practices. We're excited to be part of the WFEN. Our goal is to expand the marketplace for producers that not only offer quality products, but hope for the future for the world's most threatened species, and the communities that live alongside them.