By Bud Gillett, CBS 11 News

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A 12-year-old Allen girl got the thrill of a lifetime Monday. Sarah Fonville is a fan both of cheetahs and of a woman trying to save them; on Monday Sarah got to meet both face-to-face. “It’s really a good thing for me, I really wanted to do this,” Sarah told CBS 11. She fell in love with cheetahs when she saw her first TV program on them at age five; Laurie Marker was on that program and became Sarah’s hero. “I really wanted to meet her in person ever since I saw it and I was just, ‘it’s really fun.’”

Dr. Laurie Marker founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund from her base in the African country of Namibia. Cheetahs are the fastest animals on earth—and among Nature’s most vulnerable. “About 100 years ago there were about 100,000 cheetahs; today there are only about 10,000 cheetahs,” according to Dr. Marker,” who adds, “Most of the populations are living in isolated areas with a handful here and maybe fifty there.”

Today, Sarah got to meet her hero, compliments of the Dallas Zoo, and to view the zoo’s three cheetahs, at least until the storms drove everyone inside for safety’s sake. She chuckles about how she first liked dinosaurs, then lions, and finally cheetahs. “ I like… predatory animals. And I found the cheetah to be one of the most unique ones that I’ve seen.”

Cheetahs, however, need room; in the wild they can rang up to 800 square miles, according to Dr. Marker; but the problem in the wild is they bump up next to humans. “The biggest problem for them is kind of a human-wildlife conflict and loss of habitat.”

Dr. Marker is pleased her life’s work in Namibia is helping inspire a new generation. “It’s great to see young people who really care because you’re out in the middle of nowhere and look back and wonder, ‘Does anyone care?’” That answer is a resounding ‘yes’ from Sarah, something Dr. Marker finds rewarding. “And the kind of science Sarah has learned about is really important as well. So, they’re our future and I’m really, really excited to meet them as I come over to the States. ”