As a young girl Marcy Mendelson would spend hours plopped in front of the TV watching National Geographic. She especially loved the cheetah and dreamed of being a photographer on the savannah. While it’s taken her over 30 years to actualize that dream, Marcy is now one of the few photojournalist covering the cheetah and yes, in October 2011 she is going on safari and she wants you to come along.
I caught up with Marcy following a photo shoot she was doing in Reno, Nevada at the Animal Ark, a sanctuary for non-releasable wildlife. She had photographed their cheetah at a speed of 70 miles per hour. Upon meeting Marcy my ideas of a wildlife photojournalist, sun drenched, natural and rugged, were quickly abandoned. Her long dark hair, petite frame, fair complexion and urban fashion sense were surprising and intriguing. Her enthusiasm and passion for the cheetah was contagious and I immediately liked her and for a moment I even contemplated hopping on a plane to join her safari.
As a social media guru and art major Marcy has done a 360 over the last two years and is now coupling her passion with photojournalism and social media to help the cheetah and raise awareness of wildlife conservation. She is hoping through her work that she will promote the co-existence of the cheetah, the most fragile of the largest cats.
Marcy had forgotten her dream to document the wildlife in Africa up until a recent job with The Sierra Club where she was managing the company’s social media platform. It was the incredible visual images and stories at The Sierra Club that re-ignited her passion for photography coupled with her love for animals. Within the year Marcy identified a funder, met with cheetah experts and started laying her path to lead a safari to Africa.
Marcy claims that the Cheetah’s story is often overlooked. While many people love the fastest land mammal on earth many farmers view this cat as a threat to their livestock. The human population has infringed on the cheetah’s land and the battle has become land vs. predator. The Cheetah population has decreased by 90% over the last 100 years with only 10,000-12,000 Cheetahs remaining. It is now the most endangered cat in Africa. “The primary threat to the survival of cheetahs has been its loss of habitat due to agricultural expansion, poaching and game hunting for hides and trophies,” says Mendelson. Marcy believes that “if we don’t have our top predators we don’t have a healthy eco system.” She and other conservationists think co-existence is possible and they have been somewhat successful in creating solutions to prevent the depletion of this beautiful animal. Another important aspect of conservation is building awareness and creating a connection to the animal through story. Marcy hopes to accomplish just that through her visual images and bringing others to the cheetah’s homeland to build an appreciation for this animal.
Fulfilling the second part of her dream, this fall Marcy is co-leading a safari in Africa with Peter Allison author of “Whatever You Do, Don’t Run” to photograph the cheetah in the wild, and document the conservation efforts of organizations as they work with the local farmers (ranchers) and communities. The goal is to raise awareness and affect change via the visual story across country borders of how conservation methods benefit humans to live in harmony with cheetahs.
“We’re at a crucial point and we are all part of our world. Even if the cheetah seems 1,000 miles away it’s an integrated part of our ecosystem and it’s important to do what we can,” states Mendelson. She’ll be traveling to the Cheetah hot spots including South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. In addition, she’ll be meeting with a couple of the leading cheetah advocates, many of whom are women. She is bringing along a dozen conservation enthusiasts to join her on this journey and give back to cheetah conservation. She only has a couple of spots left and encourages others to join her for the adventure of a life time. Updates from her adventure will be posted on National Geographic News Watch and National Geographic News Watch and Cheetah-Watch.com.
Whether your passion is driven by the cheetah, nature or wildlife Marcy encourages all of us to be persistent and passionate. “Keep your eye focused on what you want,” insists Mendelson. “If your goal means something to you, keep strong and go for it!”
Marcy recently launched a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter and could still use your help. To contribute to her project go to: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cheetah/to-save-the-cheetah-a-documentary
If you’ve always had a dream to travel on the Savannah join Marcy on her expedition to protect the cheetah. For more information go to: http://cheetah-watch.com/safari. The safari is Oct. 5-16th, 2011. Follow Marcy on Twitter @MendelsonImages.
Tune in to See Jane Do to hear Marcy’s inspiring story!
5 things you can do today to protect the wild!
1. Come on safari! Learn about the animals and habitat in their 'hood. Seeing the animals in action is an experience like no other. Go on trips with tours that give back... Cheetah Safari http://cheetah-watch.com/safari or volunteer!: Cheetah Conservation Botswana: http://www.cheetahbotswana.com/volunteers.php and Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia http://www.cheetah.org/?nd=volunteer both have volunteer programs.
2. Purchase items that donate to wildlife conservation: http://www.wildlifefriendly.org/products By helping local economies, people will not have to rely on illegal poaching, and orgs can supply predator safe guard animals to help livestock farmers protect their goats and sheep.
- (Example: Irbis Enterprises sells wool items from the Himalaya through Snow LeopardTrus including toy mice for cats: http://www.snowleopard.org/shop/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=6
3. Outdoorsy? See a wild cat in your travels or on your regional hike? Contact the conservation alliance associated with that animal. Sightings are very important for their statistical reports and just ONE sighting can help preserve land for that cat to roam!
- (Example: Bay Area Puma Project: http://bapp.org/, International: Tsavo Cheetah Project in Kenya: http://tsavocheetahproject.blogspot.com/ & Andean Cat Alliance in South America: http://www.gatoandino.org/en/default.asp)
4. Give Give Give... the work on the ground is long term and they need your help! You can help out with donations through organization such as Wildlife Conservation Network: http://www.wildnet.org/, Cheetah.org, Action for Cheetahs in Kenya http://www.cheetah.org/?nd=ccf_kenya, and many more.
5. All cat owners should be aware of the danger of flushing cat litter down the toilet. (In the Monterey Bay, it's suspected to be a major carrier of toxoplasmosis - killing seals, sea otters, sea lions, etc.)
BONUS #6: Talk Talk Talk... awareness is key. We love nature programs but their stories don't stop when the credits roll... Share information with your friends, go see the new movies through Nat Geographic and Disney and tell the next generation.