Racing Scientists

9780547815497_hresChasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cats
By Sy Montgomery
Photographed by Nic Bishop
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, Boston, $18.99)

Behind many of the great wildlife conservation movements of the last thirty years lies a strong scientist-advocate. In the world of cheetah conservation, that figure is Laurie Marker. The founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), Marker oversees a variety of programs to promote species’ survival: genetics research, school visits, a veterinary clinic, outreach to farmers, and a visitors’ center in Namibia that allows people to interact with cheetahs who cannot be released into the wild.

In Chasing Cheetahs, Sy Montgomery and photographer Nic Bishop transport middle-grade readers to the Namibian bush, where Marker, her large staff, and volunteers work tirelessly to save these elegant cats from extinction. The book includes a short biography of Marker, whose love of animals surfaced in childhood. Montgomery never condescends to her audience, educating them about such complex topics as DNA structure and the importance of predators to ecosystems. She also never shields them from difficult truths: she matter-of-factly explains how farmers kill many cheetahs to protect their livestock and how CCF is working to change that by providing farmers with large dogs to guard their animals. Although some younger readers may find the scientific information overwhelming, those interested in animals will devour Chasing Cheetahs.

Bishop’s photos capture the beauty of the African plains and the animals to whom Marker has devoted her life. Cheetahs race, recline, stretch, and leap over the book’s pages; some stare regally at or through readers, their amber eyes fixed on some distant point. Other photos feature the other animals, both wild and domestic, who call the Center and the surrounding reserve home. These compelling images should linger with readers long after they finish Chasing Cheetahs, ensuring the swift, spotted cats a permanent home in their hearts.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

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