Conservationists and techies race to #SaveTheCheetah

An unlikely partnership is hoping to change a major misconception about the awe-inspiring cat.

Cheetah Mobile (CMCM), a leading Chinese mobile and utility application company, has joined forces with the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) to raise awareness about the plight of the fastest land animal in the world—also Africa’s most endangered cat.

Just 100 years ago there were an estimated 100,000 cheetahs in the wild, spread across 44 countries in Asia and Africa, but today that number stands at around 10,000 animals, confined to 29 mostly African and North African countries. These losses are the cumulative and continued result of wars, human-wildlife conflicts, poaching and habitat loss.

Josh Ong, Director of Communications for CMCM, explains the company’s commitment to the teardrop-spotted cat stemmed from their CEO’s desire to support conservation work, the big cat’s traits, and the discovery of its decline. Best known for their three-second epic zero to 110km starts, Ong says the sleek, speedy cat was a natural choice, telling customers what to expect from their products.

‘When looking for a partnership we loved CCF’s legacy, their embrace of technology, and efforts to unite humans and cheetahs,’ says Ong. ‘It was the perfect fit.’

Founded 25 years ago by American zoologist Dr. Laurie Marker in Namibia, CCF has helped grow the country’s wild cheetah population from 1,500 in 1990 to between 3,500 and 4,000 individuals today. These gains have come from rehabilitative work—with half of the 900 cheetahs CCF has worked with returning to the wild—plus serious educational efforts. Model farms showcase predator-friendly farming methods and the fund breeds and trains guard-dogs to decrease livestock losses—there’s a wait list for local farmers currently. It also runs programs like Future Farmers of Africa, teaching basic veterinary, business and wildlife management strategies.

With chapters all over the world, Susan Yannetti, CCF’s External Relations Manager, says the Fund is pleased at their progress, but still faces a major roadblock. ‘Not a lot of people think of the cheetah as endangered because they’re so popular,’ says Yannetti. ‘Changing that misconception is the main aim of campaign.’

Calling their project #SaveTheCheetah, the drive’s first undertaking was a virtual 10-billboard running a 10-second video, installed in New York City’s Time Square mid-July. Their second endeavour, an extended 30-second video, aired at the Indianapolis Speedway’s Brickyard Race Weekend to an estimated 1.3 millions fans.

‘Our message is universal, about an iconic species, so we wanted to put it in equally universal and iconic places,’ says Yannetti. ‘Technology lets us bypass a lot of traditional fundraising costs—allowing us an audience we’d normally be unable to reach.’

Ong is clear this is just phase one of a longtime pledge on their part, but that hopefully this campaign will help disprove another common misconception.

‘Technology and nature often seem like opposites,’ says Ong, ‘but advancing technology is actually giving us more power to protect nature.’