Focus on the Cheetah
Focus on the Cheetah
The take home message when it comes to conserving cheetahs is that they need LOTS of space. Even in areas with high prey densities such as the Serengeti, cheetahs still roam widely, especially females. While not completely understood the theory is that this behaviour results from an evolutionary history of avoiding stronger competitors such as the lion and the spotted hyaena.
This need for lots of space and wide ranging behaviour makes the cheetah increasingly vulnerable as human populations in their range areas increase, and land is subsequently altered, sometimes irrevocably. Their wide ranging behaviour coupled with wild prey populations declining over much of Africa has also increased the chances of conflict with livestock producers, as cheetahs kill livestock when natural prey is limited or not available.
Many protected areas of Africa are simply too small (<10 000km2) or have too large an edge effect to protect this species and conservation efforts must focus on encouraging tolerance to their presence in key connecting and buffer areas between the protected area networks of Africa.
However, there are a number of positives when looking at the future of the cheetah. It is a very timid animal and no threat to humans, preferring to avoid areas of human habituation and to move away from noise and human activity – in fact in many parts of Africa noise is used to keep cheetah away from livestock! So encouraging coexistence does not come with a potential cost to human life. It can persist where natural prey densities are low given that it can eat relatively small prey and still survive so there are many areas of Africa that remain suitable habitat for it outside of the protected area estate. Livestock can be protected quite easily from cheetah given it’s timid nature without huge expense (eg using livestock guarding dogs, herding livestock during early hours of day and in the evening, keeping a donkey with a herd, and simply placing cow bells on a few individuals of the livestock herd).
Cheetahs have also shown their ability to survive in a variety of habitats from the dry arid areas of Namibia to thick thornveld to the wet floodplains of Zambia and Botswana so again we have a lot of choice as to where to look after them.
Conservation efforts are therefore focussing on raising awareness of the threats and possible mitigation methods across their known range and encouraging tolerance to their presence and commitment to maintaining enough land that is suitable for them (not necessarily fully protected or full of wildlife remember - just suitable for a few cheetahs).
In 2007, a partnership between the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Conservation Society embarked on an ambitious programme to create conservation strategies at the scale required for the cheetah – that of regions such as Southern Africa, East Africa and North and West Africa. This approach ensures that all stakeholders appreciate the need for large areas to be kept suitable for cheetah and what is required to achieve this, as well as facilitating transboundary collaboration as many existing populations of cheetah traverse national boundaries. To date, all three regions in Africa have developed a regional strategy(see map).
The new approach sees planning carried out at the regional level and then development of national action plans. In Southern Africa, the planning process as resulted in four key areas which were previously neglected now have active or emerging cheetah projects (Kafue national park; the northern complex of protected areas in Zimbabwe; Gona-re-zhou National Park; Northern Tuli Game Reserve and the Mozambique component of the Great Limpopo TFCA). Areas where cheetah could be restored have also been identified, including parks in Mozambique and Zambia (especially the Luangwa area crossing into Kasungu national park in Malawi) and small reserves in South Africa that have agreed to become part of a managed meta-population.
For more information about the Range wide programme and in country projects within the Zambezi Basin, (and to find out how you can help),
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The Septemeber 2012 issue of the Zambezi Traveller focused on cheetah and the amazing work done in preserving this magnificent animal in the Zambezi region.
The Cheetah: An icon of the Zambezi
Focus on the Cheetah
Cheetah of the Zambezi
Farmers the key for cheetah future
Cheetah Centre leads the way
Cheetah Ambassador in Victoria Falls
Cheetah: the final frontier?
Spot the difference...
Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 10, Sept 2012)