Brooke Mundey on one of the farms during a rapid survey on human-predator conflict in the Sesfontein Conservancy, Namibia.
Brooke Mundey on one of the farms during a rapid survey on human-predator conflict in the Sesfontein Conservancy, Namibia. Contributed

Uni student helps cheetahs prosper

THE first time Brooke Mundey came face to face with a tiger, she was memorised.

The encounter took place during a university field trip to the zoo and Brooke was entranced.

"It's hard to put into words," she said.

"It was such a big, beautiful animal. It just had this presence and I wanted to know more about them and make sure they were protected."

As a biology student, she undertook an internship at the zoo and that's when everything changed.

"After my first day, I knew I wanted to work with big cats," she said.

"It changed everything."

Brooke had originally gone to study in America on a tennis scholarship.

Her dream was to win Wimbledon or an Olympic medal. But after working with a white tiger cub, she knew that a life of fur and claws was for her.

She worked at the Austin Zoo for five years before moving back to Australia to volunteer and later work at Australia Zoo.

Her passion for big cats shone through and she became the senior cheetah handler.

For five years, she worked with the four cheetahs the zoo housed, walking them daily, feeding them and educating the public on the plight of the regal feline.

She said each trainer had to undergo months of training: learning the cheetah's body language, knowing when it was safe to approach the animals - and when to get out of there.

Since cheetahs are such powerful animals, Brooke has to watch her own body language to ensure she isn't giving off the wrong signals.

The chance to educate the public about cheetahs is most important in her eyes.

"One of the most important aspects of the job is walking the cheetahs around the zoo and educating people on cheetah conservation," she said.

Today, only 8000-10,000 cheetahs exist in the wild. They are classified as vulnerable on the endangered species listing.

"It's all through man-made causes," Brooke said.

"Unfortunately, the world is losing its big predators at an alarming rate and their primary threat is conflict with humans

"Throughout Africa, predators such as cheetahs, leopards, and lions are being shot, trapped, and poisoned on a daily basis as a threat to livestock."

Brooke first visited Africa in 2008 to see the plight of the cheetah first-hand and volunteered with the Cheetah Conservation Fund.

This year, she was accepted to attend the 6th International Cheetah Conservation Biology Training Course at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia.

The course ran for a month and provided hands-on training for international researchers and conservationists to take back to their home countries to help increase wild cheetah populations.

"CCF's cheetah conservation biology training course provides cheetah researchers and conservationists with a unique opportunity to come together and learn from each other in order to improve the way we approach human-wildlife conflict issues around the world," Brooke said.

She said the course had been an invaluable experience and she hoped to use the skills and knowledge she gained not only to ensure a future for cheetahs in Africa, but also to assist the native wildlife in Australia.

While she misses the four cheetahs she used to work with, she is now working on a wildlife conservation proposal and plans to return to university to complete her honours research project focusing on koalas.

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