The Future of the Cheetah

PROJECT & POD NEWS / 30 April 2013 The Future of the Cheetah

Laurie Marker (founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund) was recently interviewed by a newspaper in Namibia about the uncertain future of the cheetah.

The article covers the main problems that cheetahs face and we tell you more about our Cheetah Reintroduction project in South Africa and what it’s doing to try to increase numbers of cheetahs in the wild.

Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land mammal reaching speeds of up to 120km per hour but unfortunately they cannot outrun the problems which face them. This makes the future of the cheetah uncertain and estimates according to Panthera suggest that if no special measures are taken, this species could be extinct by 2030. Their status on the IUCN red list of threatened species is currently vulnerable but this is likely to move to endangered if numbers keep decreasing.

The most serious threat facing cheetahs in the wild is habitat loss as cheetahs require vast open spaces with few larger carnivores in order to thrive. Habitat loss results in prey loss as other larger predators such as lions and hyenas are too much competition for the cheetah.

Another problem is natural genetic inbreeding which was caused by a bottle-neck in the population which occurred in the last ice age around 10,000 years ago.

In the early 20th century the global population of cheetahs was estimated at around 100,000 with cheetahs found in Africa, the Middle East and some of Asia. There are now thought to be less than 10,000 in the wild today, with those still found in Iran considered to be critically endangered. They are now found in less than 77% of their original territory in Africa.

Laurie Marker says “Our research and experience shows that even wild cheetahs that have not had at least 18 months of life with a mother in their natural habitat have a difficult time being re-wilded. They simply don't learn the survival skills necessary to sustain themselves in the wild."

This is good news for our Cheetah Reintroduction project as this is exactly what they set out to achieve. Through a three phase project they are trying to increase the numbers of cheetahs in the wild.

Volunteers assist with the pioneering reintroduction project which is the first of its kind. Volunteers spend time with the hand-raised cheetahs recording data which is used to identify potential candidates for the project. This involves collecting data on feeding habits, hunting behaviour, health and reaction a lure which is used to train the cheetahs to use and practise their natural hunting techniques.

Once potential cheetahs are identified for the project they will be moved into a controlled area which is stocked with suitable game but has no other predators. Here they will learn to become self-sufficient and human contact will be removed. Volunteers will then be involved in monitoring their behaviour and hunting ability from a lookout and using tracking collars. Once they are comfortable and confident in there, a partner will be introduced for them to mate with. The female will then raise the cubs herself as if they are wild with no human interaction or contact.

Once the cubs have reached around 18-24 months, the mother will chase them away as she would do in the wild. At this stage the cubs will be removed and placed in to areas where there is a demand for cheetah either to start a new population where one previously existed or to bring new blood lines into an existing population.

The read about how you can volunteer with cheetahs please see the following link: https://www.podvolunteer.org/projects/cheetah-reintroduction-south-africa/

To read the full article with Laurie Marker please click here

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