Discovering New Passions at 60
Barbara Carroll ‘76

Long before “The Bucket List” movie was released, I had complied a list of travel destinations which included a safari in Kenya and Tanzania. But for all my dreams and planning, I could never have imagined just how much of an impact the trip would have on me and the new passion I would discover.

As my camera recorded my experiences, it could not capture the emotions I felt during morning game drives or during observations at the local watering holes. There were mothers everywhere with their newborns — prides of lions, herds of elephants, white rhinos, gazelles and cape buffalo.

But of all of the species I observed, one cat captured my heart: the cheetah. With their long legs and lean bodies, I witnessed the cheetah stalk and capture its prey, and a mother watching over her cubs frolicking in the grass.

I did not understand the rarity of these precious cheetah sightings until visited the Serengeti Research Center. It was there that I first learned about the devastating factors impacting their survival and fact that the population has dwindled from over 100,000 to as few as 7,000 due to loss of habitat, human-cheetah conflict, illegal trafficking of cubs, and the cubs’ low survival rate in the wild.

Issues impacting cheetah survival are complex and involve international borders, governments, business interests and illegal trafficking of cubs. Local farmers are protecting their herds, and communities are trying to survive. Without buy in on the front line, there will continue to be a needless loss of these precious cats.

When I returned from Africa, I felt compelled to learn more about cheetahs and found The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Alexandria, Va., right where I live. I went to their offices, announcing my intention to work for, or volunteer for, the CCF. I also attended an inspirational fundraising event featuring the founder of The Cheetah Conservation Fund, Dr. Laurie Marker, who spearheaded work to halt the decline of the species through education, outreach, and genetic research and conservation. As a result, I planned a return trip to Africa which included a visit to the CCF global headquarters in Namibia.

Dr. Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund

While touring the facility in Namibia, I learned about CCF’s programs. I also went on safari in Namibia and was stunned not to witness any cheetah sightings. I felt certain that I would be able to see the cat who had captured my heart. The thought of never seeing them again in the wild empowered me further to help save the species from extinction.

At 60, I did not think there was room for new passion in my life — but I was wrong. I challenge and encourage you to start working on your own bucket list and imagine where it could lead you. For more information about the Cheetah Conservation Fund, visit cheetah.org.