STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books

Saving Cheetahs

SITF CheetahChasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cats (Scientists in the Field)
by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop
80 pages; ages 10- 14
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

A full-grown cheetah weighs about 90 pounds and can run 70 miles per hour – as fast as a car driving on a highway. It can go from zero to 40 in three steps, but after a few hundred yards it has to stop for a rest, or it will overheat.

These fast cats live in one place: Africa. But they are endangered and, without help, may go extinct. This book shows how Laurie Marker – and other scientists working with the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia – is working to preserve remaining cheetah populations. Saving cheetahs, she says, is about more than saving the big cats. “It’s about antelopes and birds, leopards and giraffes, soil and trees, dogs and goats.” That’s because, if you save the cheetahs you end up saving all of the other plants and animals in that ecosystem.

One strategy is to use dogs to save cats. Farmers shoot cheetahs because the big cats take goats from their herds. But in cases where herds are protected by large dogs, cheetahs don’t bother the livestock. Instead, they chase down wild game. So Laurie’s strategy: give a dog to every farmer, and teach them how to protect their flocks so both wild and domestic animals can share the landscape.

In one chapter Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop take us on a forensic expedition to determine which cheetahs have been in an area, and what those cheetahs are eating. Using DNA from scat and hairs left behind, scientists can figure out whether cheetahs are dining on gazelles or goats. They also check in with a wildlife vet for some hands-on lessons on cheetah health.

I particularly like how the book ends with Laurie’s “advice for saving the world”. Her first (and most important) bit of wisdom: “Don’t wait for ‘somebody’ to do it.” If you’re ever thinking that “somebody should do something”, then that somebody might be you. Her last and just-as-important words of advice: “We can save the world. There’s no reason we can’t. But we have to actively do it.” Everyone- even kids- can do something to make this world a better place.

STEM Friday

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Author: Sue Heavenrich

I write about science and environmental issues for children and their families.

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