Posted: Sep 24, 2008 03:46 PM EDT
Updated: Sep 24, 2008 04:33 PM EDT
Indianapolis - The cheetah is the fastest animal on land, but it's in a race for survival. One of the nominees for the Indianapolis Prize wants to put the spotlight on the beautiful animals and make an urgent call for conservation.
"It's a really interesting species because it's a survivor," nominee Laurie Marker said.
Marker wants to make sure the cheetah remains a survivor and doesn't fall into extinction.
Her interest in cheetahs started at a wildlife park in Oregon, but took her to Namibia in southern Africa, a place where the cheetah runs wild.
"I met the cheetah and I thought that it was one of the most amazing creatures that I had ever seen," Marker said, "here's an animal that can go 70mph. It's built for speed, it's the most elegant creature there is."
But Marker knows the cheetah faces serious problems that threaten its existence.
"The cheetah needs things, it just can't be put into small reserves or a zoo and survive. We're really going to need to maintain these large lands in order for the species to survive in the future, " Marker said.
One of the biggest challenges is its reproductive problems and limited genetic makeup. So, Marker and fellow scientists track the wild cheetahs using electronic collars. They also learn from the orphaned cheetahs that now live with them in captivity.
Marker hopes education at zoos and wildlife parks will inspire others to work to save the cheetahs.
"If we don't do that, we're probably not going to have the cheetah on earth in 15, 20 years. So it's that critical, the issues that we're dealing with," Marker said.
It won't be long before Hoosiers can see cheetahs up close. In 2010, they'll have a place to roam at the Indianapolis zoo. Plans for a new exhibit are in the works.
Laurie Marker is one of six finalists for the Indianapolis Prize. The winner will receive the $100,000 award on Saturday.