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Helping endangered cheetahs

  Mary Boone  

A 1999 vacation through southern Africa ignited a passion within Haily Summerford '92.

"I fell in love with everything about Africa," says Summerford. "From the moment I got there, I knew I had to go back-not as a tourist, but to help in some way."

Summerford's work experience-first at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas, and now as an educator for the City of Fort Worth's Environmental Management Department-made her a perfect match for an organization called Cheetah Outreach. The South African group, which works to teach the local population about the endangered cheetah, needed help writing programs for schools and developing teacher workshops.

Summerford spent last summer near Cape Town, working with five cheetahs that serve as ambassadors for their species, participating in school visits, writing educational programs, and designing Cheetah Outreach's information center.

"It was intense, but I loved every minute of it," says Summerford, who's continued her volunteer work with the group via e-mail. Summerford and a team of Fort Worth and South African teachers are writing a curriculum centered on the cheetah.

This June, Summerford and a Fort Worth-area teacher will travel to Africa to unveil their curriculum to South African and Namibian educators in hopes of helping them become more comfortable teaching their students about cheetahs and other wildlife.

"It was amazing to learn how many of these teachers had animal phobias," says Summerford. "A big first step for us has been dispelling myths and helping them understand the cheetah is predicted to become extinct in the next 10 to 15 years if something isn't done to reverse that trend."

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