Sav­ing the chee­tah can cre­ate a sym­bol of har­mony

Meth­ods needed to help it sur­vive ex­tinc­tion can work for the com­mon good

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - ILANIT CHERNICK

AN EX­CITED yell of “there!” reaches your ears as you look through the blades of long grass, try­ing to spot a chee­tah that has stopped the game drive in its tracks.

You en­cour­age your fam­ily to look and re­mind them that this could be one of the last times they ever see this in the wild.

If we don’t start car­ing about our chee­tah pop­u­la­tion, the only place our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren may ever see one is on a visit to the zoo.

Like the gi­raffe pop­u­la­tion, the chee­tah’s num­bers are also dwin­dling across the world and it may not be long be­fore there are hardly any left in the wild or they have be­come ex­tinct.

There are just 7 100 left in the wild. Ac­cord­ing to co-or­di­na­tor of the Red List Pro­ject at the En­dan­gered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Matthew Child most of the chee­tah’s range across Africa ex­ists out­side pro­tected ar­eas where there are more se­vere threats.

“They are de­clin­ing in many African coun­tries.

“For ex­am­ple, in Zim­babwe, they were es­ti­mated to have de­clined by 85% be­tween 1999 and 2015 and have be­come ex­tinct in many ar­eas of West and Cen­tral Africa.”

Child said there was model-based data which sug­gested the chee­tah pop­u­la­tions in­side pro­tected ar­eas “sup­ple­mented” those out­side.

“This is called ‘sink’ pop­u­la­tions and if growth rates of the pro­tected pop­u­la­tions were to de­cline, the over­all pop­u­la­tion would very rapidly move to­wards ex­tinc­tion.”

World­wide, chee­tahs are listed as vul­ner­a­ble.

“The to­tal pop­u­la­tion in South Africa is es­ti­mated to range be­tween 1 166 and 1 742 an­i­mals.”

Ac­cord­ing to Child, chee­tahs are very sen­si­tive to habi­tat loss and frag­men­ta­tion be­cause of their wide ranges and low den­si­ties and of­ten come into con­flict with live­stock and game farm­ers.

“Such con­flicts may be ex­ac­er­bated in ar­eas where the nat­u­ral prey has been de­pleted due to bush meat hunt­ing and agri­cul­tural or hu­man set­tle­ment ex­pan­sion.

“Chee­tahs are also some­times caught in snares in­tended for other species such as an­te­lope,” he said.

The ex­ten­sive il­le­gal trade in chee­tah cubs for the pet in­dus­try, es­pe­cially to the Gulf states, was also adding to the cri­sis. “Il­le­gal re­moval of wild an­i­mals for the cap­tive-breed­ing in­dus­try is an emerg­ing threat to the species lo­cally and may be caus­ing de­clines, among other threats, in the free-roam­ing pop­u­la­tion,” he warned.

He said chee­tahs were also of­ten killed on roads, par­tic­u­larly those that cross bor­der pro­tected ar­eas.

How­ever, South Africa was the only coun­try in the world where the chee­tah pop­u­la­tion was still grow­ing, he said.

Vin­cent van der Merwe, a chee­tah metapop­u­la­tion co-or­di­na­tor at the Car­ni­vore Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gramme of the En­dan­gered Wildlife Trust, said in South Africa the chee­tah pop­u­la­tion in­creased from about 500 an­i­mals in 1965 to 1 175 an­i­mals to­day.

“The growth is be­cause we have rein­tro­duced chee­tahs into 51 small fenced re­serves across the coun­try, mak­ing spa­ces for an ad­di­tional 330 wild Chee­tahs that are now man­aged as a metapop­u­la­tion.

“There have also been ma­jor changes in land use in South Africa,” he said.

Van der Merwe also ex­plained that with the switch from live­stock farm­ing to game ranch­ing dur­ing the 1990s and 2000s, a large free-roam­ing chee­tah pop­u­la­tion es­tab­lished it­self on South Africa’s north­ern bor­der with Botswana, and to a lesser ex­tent on the western bound­ary of the Kruger Na­tional Park.

“South­ern Africa is the con­ser­va­tion strong­hold for chee­tah, with an es­ti­mated 4 520 adult and in­de­pen­dent ado­les­cent wild chee­tahs.

“Seventy-five per­cent of the wild chee­tahs in South­ern Africa oc­cur out­side of pro­tected ar­eas.

“East Africa sup­ports an es­ti­mated 2 570 in­de­pen­dent and in­de­pen­dent ado­les­cent chee­tahs.

“Ac­cord­ing to the pop­u­la­tion in west, cen­tral and north­ern Africa is es­ti­mated at 450 in­di­vid­u­als.

“In Asia there are only about 80 chee­tahs left.”

Ac­cord­ing to the num­bers sup­plied by the EWT the chee­tah pop­u­la­tion is now ex­tinct in coun­tries that once had sev­eral hun­dred chee­tahs like Mau­ri­ta­nia, Chad, Mali and Cameroon.

In Ethiopia the pop­u­la­tion has more than halved while in Kenya the pop­u­la­tion has de­clined from 2 000 to 650 since 1975.

To com­bat the de­cline and to con­serve the pop­u­la­tion that is left Child said chee­tah con­ser­va­tion could rely on pro­tected ar­eas alone as they were wide-rang­ing species, with home ranges some­times in ex­cess of 3 000km2.

“In­cen­tives will need to be put in place to re­duce hu­man-wildlife con­flict out­side of pro­tected ar­eas and al­low co­ex­is­tence of chee­tahs with agri­cul­tural com­mu­ni­ties.

“For ex­am­ple, the use of live­stock-guard­ing dogs to pro­tect live­stock and game and re­duce chee­tah per­se­cu­tion,” he said.

Other ways he sug­gested in­clude fur­ther­ing de­vel­op­ment of trans-bound­ary or trans-fron­tier con­ser­va­tion ar­eas, en­hanced re­gional co-oper­a­tion be­tween con­ser­va­tion agen­cies and land use plan­ning across large land­scapes with mul­ti­ple land-uses (agri­cul­ture, in­dus­try and set­tle­ments) to cre­ate habi­tat cor­ri­dors be­tween pro­tected ar­eas.

Child said in South Africa es­pe­cially, leg­is­la­tion was needed to com­pletely ban the move­ment of wild chee­tah into cap­tiv­ity.

“This in­cludes le­gal re­quire­ments to mark, trace and mon­i­tor cap­tive-bred an­i­mals,” he em­pha­sised.

Child added that if the chee­tah was to per­sist in Africa, in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions in­volv­ing con­ser­va­tion­ists, lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies and the pri­vate sec­tor were re­quired.

“The chee­tah can be­come a sym­bol of har­mo­nious, mul­ti­func­tional and in­te­grated land­scapes if we get this right,” he con­cluded.

South­ern Africa is the strong­hold for chee­tah, with about 4 520

PIC­TURE: IAN LANDSBERG

THREAT­ENED: A young chee­tah feeds on a fresh kill in Kgala­gadi Trans­fron­tier Park. Be­cause of the chee­tah’s sen­si­tiv­ity to habi­tat change and other foes, they are un­der se­vere threat of ex­tinc­tion.

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