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Cheetahs Race for Survival: Ecology and Conservation

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Cheetahs Race for Survival: Ecology and Conservation

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Cheetahs Race for Survival:
Ecology and Conservation
LaurieMarker
Abstract
Cheetahs reach speeds of up to 113 km/h accelerating from zero to 96 km/h in
3s. Revered for 5000 years throughout Asia, Europe and Africa has contributed
to the species decline. Today’s wild cheetah population is estimated at 7100 adult
and adolescents, a 90% reduction from a century ago, and a range reduction of
9%. Over 80% live outside protected areas where human-wildlife conflict occurs.
Female cheetahs live solitarily with their cubs; male cubs form lifelong coalitions.
Living in low densities cheetahs’ home ranges cover over 1500 km2, requiring
large landscapes with prey. Although cheetahs’ lack genetic diversity from a
historic population bottleneck, their greatest conservation problems are humans.
Habitat loss and declining preybase leads to conflict with livestock farmers.
Additionally, illegal wildlife trafficking of cubs is affecting small populations
in the Horn of Africa. Solving the cheetah conservation crisis is critical and
involves addressing a complex web of social, environmental and economic issues,
and depends on a holistic approach balancing the needs of humans and chee-
tahs sharing land. Research into conserving and restoring habitat for cheetahs
includes training, the use of Livestock Guarding Dogs, and other conflict mitiga-
tion strategies, addressing habitat loss, dismantling the illegal pet trade, and
encouraging coexistence.
Keywords: cheetah, predators, protected areas, livelihood development,
conservancies, illegal wildlife trade
. Introduction
The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, is one of the oldest big cat species, with ances-
tors that can be traced back more than five million years to the Middle Pliocene era
[1–3]. The cheetah is also the world’s fastest land mammal, an icon of nature, and
the most unique of the 41 species of cats [4]. The hunting style of the cheetah—to
swiftly pursue prey over a moderate distance—necessitates some morphological
and physiological specializations for both prey-killing and locomotion [5].
As an animal built for speed, all parts of its body have evolved for precision and
agility. Because of its small, aerodynamic head, lean body, long legs, flexible back-
bone and tail that works like a boat’s rudder, the cheetah can change direction in
a split second and reach speeds of up to 113km/h while turning 180° [6–8]. With
each stride, the cheetah covers 6m with just one foot touching the ground at a
time; at two points in the stride, all four feet are in the air. The cheetahs flexible
spine acts like a spring as it doubles up with feet under its body to clench the earth
with powerful, semi-non-retractable claws, thrusting it forward with great speed
Wildlife Population Monitoring
and maximum distance. The cheetah is not only the fastest running land mam-
mal; it is also known for its rapid acceleration, as it can go from zero to 96km/h
in just 3 s [6].
With less than 7100 adults and adolescents remaining [9], the cheetah is one of
the most endangered big cat species. Cheetah numbers have declined primarily due
to increased human-wildlife conflict, loss of habitat and loss of prey, and the illegal
wildlife trade. In addition to these threats, cheetahs lack genetic variation due to a
historic population bottleneck, approximately 12,000years ago, which makes the
cheetah more vulnerable to ecological and environmental changes [1012].
Today, nearly 80% of the remaining worlds cheetahs are found outside of
protected areas living near rural livestock farming communities [9]. Protected areas,
such as wildlife reserves or national parks typically have higher densities of larger or
more aggressive predator species that can outcompete cheetahs, making it difficult
for cheetahs to survive. Despite being one of the best hunter species on the savanna,
cheetahs often lose their kills to larger predators. In protected areas, cheetahs have
been found to lose 10–15% of their kills to lions (Panthera leo), leopards (Panthera
pardus), jackals (Canis aureus), and hyenas (Hyaenidae) [13, 14]. In addition to hunt-
ing pressures, cheetahs face direct threats by larger carnivores that may try to kill an
adult cheetah or its young, to reduce competition for prey and territory [1317].
Living outside protected areas prevents threats by other predators but puts the
cheetah in direct conflict with commercial and subsistence livestock farmers [18, 19].
These farmers often perceive cheetahs to be a threat to their livestock, which leads
into economic and emotional issues. The Rangewide Cheetah and Wild Dog program,
an IUCN Cat Specialist endorsed program, brings together conservation organiza-
tions across the cheetahs range to work on a more sustainable future for cheetahs and
farmers. Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB),
and the Ruaha Carnivore Project work with other stakeholders, such as community
members, local and national governments, conservancies and scientists to develop and
implement action plans for cheetah conservation throughout its range [9, 2023].
As human populations grow, so do the chances of conflict with cheetahs.
Simultaneously, available rangeland will shrink, along with the wild prey base, has-
tening the decline of the cheetah [24, 25]. If the observed trends of decline among
cheetah population continues, the world’s fastest land mammal could become
extinct within the next 15–20years [26].
. Cheetah distribution
The cheetah was once one of the most widely distributed of all land animals.
Through the course of time the cheetah was found from North America to China,
throughout Asia, India, Europe, and Africa. About 20,000years ago, it settled into
its current range [3, 27].
A century ago, approximately 100,000 cheetahs were found in at least 44
countries throughout Africa and Asia. Today, the current free-ranging popula-
tions of cheetahs are restricted to 10% of their former range, found only in small,
fragmented areas spread across 23 countries in Africa (in North Africa, the Sahel,
East Africa and southern Africa), however, two thirds of these countries’ cheetah
populations number less than 200 individuals [9, 28]. It is estimated that fewer 50
wild cheetahs remaining in Iran, the last of the Asiatic population [9, 29].
Today, viable populations may be found in less than half the countries where
cheetahs still exist. Cheetahs are particularly difficult to census due to their large
home ranges, which average more than 1500km2 [14, 3032], and their shy nature,
an instinct that has been reinforced because of persecution on farmlands, where
Cheetahs Race for Survival: Ecology and Conservation
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they are shot, trapped and chased [19, 22, 33, 34]. As a result of persecution and
due to their naturally large home ranges, wherever they live they occur in low
densities [34].
All populations of cheetahs are listed on the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix 1 and are classified as
Vulnerable or Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
(IUCN) [35]. All cheetah populations are threatened due to habitat reduction and
declines in prey populations, which bring them into increased contact (and ulti-
mately conflict) with farmers and livestock [14, 2023, 33].
Due to its declining numbers and genetic lack of diversity, it is important to pro-
tect remaining wild cheetah populations to ensure the species chances for survival.
An evaluation of conservation priorities in each country where the cheetah is found
has been conducted to better understand the issues involved in achieving this goal
[2023, 33, 36]. The remaining strongholds for cheetahs are Namibia and Botswana,
in southern Africa; and Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa (see Figure ). With
approximately 20% of the world’s remaining wild cheetahs and successful efforts to
conserve its wild population, Namibia is popularly known as “The Cheetah Capital
of the World.
As a result of habitat fragmentation over time, there are currently four geneti-
cally confirmed subspecies of cheetah, three African and one Asiatic subspecies [4,
12, 37]. These subspecies are physically distinct from one another, and research is
still ongoing to determine the genetic uniqueness of each. One previously-accepted
subspecies, the Northeastern African Cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus raineyii, which was
found in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, was determined in 2017 to be a conspecific
of A.j. jubatus in 2017 and reclassified as such [4]. The currently classified subspe-
cies of cheetah are as follows:
Figure 1.
Historic and current: cheetah range map [28].
Wildlife Population Monitoring
. Asiatic cheetah
Acinonyx jubatus venaticus originally found throughout Asia in Afghanistan,
India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Russia
[38], but now there are approximately 50 remaining in a small, fragmented popula-
tions in Iran [29]. These cheetahs have denser fur and what appears to be a mane,
which is actually extra tufts of hair on their neck and shoulder blades. This thicker
coat keeps them warm in the cooler nighttime temperatures of their environment.
. Northwestern African or Saharan cheetah
Acinonyx jubatus hecki, historically found in Northwest Africa in Egypt,
Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Niger, Mauritania, Mali and in some western African
countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Ghana [38]. Today, small
populations remain in Algeria, Niger, Benin, and Burkina Faso [28]. Most are in the
central western region of the Saharan desert and the Sahel. Unique in appearance,
this subspecies in critically endangered with only approximately 250 individu-
als remaining. Saharan cheetahs are extremely pale, almost white in color. Their
coloring provides them with a natural defense against detection in the desert
environment. Sometimes there are no spots on its face and its tear marks appear
to be missing. In general, they are smaller than the other subspecies. This may be a
product of their desert environment, where there is less prey for them to hunt.
. Eastern African or Sudan cheetah
Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii, was historically found in Sudan, Djibouti,
Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Ethiopia and Somalia [38]. Today, small popula-
tions are in Chad Ethiopia, Somali, Somaliland, and South Sudan [28]. This subspe-
cies is the richly colored.
. Southern African cheetah
Acinonyx jubatus jubatus, originally found throughout Namibia, Botswana,
South Africa, Zambia, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, and Democratic Republic
of Congo and Zimbabwe [38]. Today, over 50% of the remaining cheetahs are
found in Namibia and Botswana, with small populations in Angola, South Africa
Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe [28], and the new classification of those from
Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda [4]. They have large home ranges that can encompass
hundreds of square kilometers.
. Cheetah behavior
Cheetahs have evolved for speed and are not built to fight other predators. Because
of this, they are shy in nature and will often abandon their kills in the presence of more
robust predators, such as lions, leopards and hyenas [14, 39]. To combat this, cheetahs are
typically diurnal hunters, as opposed to other large predator species, such as lions, hyena,
and leopards, which are nocturnal [39, 40]. Their lack of defense against these predators
has led to 80% of the current cheetah range being on farmland habitat [28, 41].
Female cheetahs live solitary lives and do not form coalitions. After a 93 to
95-day gestation, solitary female cheetahs give birth to two to six cubs, with 3.5
being the average litter [13, 28, 42]. Cubs stay in the den for the first 6 weeks, with
females moving their cubs to different nest sites for protection [39, 43].
Cheetahs Race for Survival: Ecology and Conservation
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At 6 weeks of age, the cubs leave the den and follow their mother. At first, cubs
will stay hidden while their mother begins to stalk prey. While the cubs are on their
own, they may chase after inappropriate prey animals, such as jackals or birds [13].
To teach them how to catch appropriate prey, their mother will capture and release
prey for the cubs to play with to practice their hunting skills [13]. The cubs will
begin to chase the prey and trip it before the mother eventually comes and kills it
for them [43]. Cubs start initiating their own hunts at about 1year of age but are
not proficient until they are independent [13]. Cubs stay with their mother for
about 18–22months. Even after they become independent, it can take cubs up to
3.5years to master hunting [13]. Female cubs establish their home ranges within
their mother’s larger home range, so there is familiarity among female cheetahs that
are related [44].
Once the young males disperse they will not maintain a territory until they are
4–5years of age [13, 18]. Male cheetahs remain with their other male siblings from
birth, forming a coalition for life. This behavior increases hunting success and is a
defense against predators. By sticking together, they can hold and defend a better
territory, where wildlife prey is abundant [39]. This also increases the chances of a
greater number of desirable females coming into the territory for breeding.
Members of a coalition are very bonded to one another. If separated, they do a
lot of vocalizations. Cheetahs have a variety of unusual vocalizations including a
dog-like bark and a bird-like chirp for calling between each other [13, 39]. Other
sounds they make include a bubble or “uhun” sound, a hiss, and a growl. They are
also very affectionate to each other. They purr and lick each other’s faces. Male
coalitions work together when hunting and are able to hunt larger prey together.
Cheetah coalitions are very stable, and the bond of brotherhood is permanent.
. Cheetah ecology
Cheetahs require vast expanses of land with prey and other resources [9, 45].
Research in Namibia shows that cheetahs have an average home range of 1500km2
with individuals covering 20–40km in a week, but live in low densities throughout
their range [14, 39, 45, 46]. Most cheetahs live in open grasslands and savanna,
which are arid environments [35]. Throughout the cheetahs range, cheetahs are
known to use tall trees for greater visualization as well as territorial markings. In
Namibia, these trees have been called “playtrees,” as cubs are often seen climbing
into them, or “newspaper tree,” as male cheetahs use these trees for leaving their
territorial scent marks, urine and feces [14, 47]. However, in many ecosystems
throughout the cheetah ranges, bush encroachment, a form of desertification
caused by overgrazing arid landscapes as well as the decline of many of the large
mega-herbivores, has caused a problem for cheetah hunting ability as well as
altering the mix of wildlife [47]. Bush encroachment results in the prolific growth
of a native plant species, Senegalia sp., commonly known as thornbush [47]. On
traditionally open savanna lands where cheetahs hunt using their natural advan-
tage, speed, bush encroachment changes the landscape. Increased bush limits the
cheetahs’ vision and speed, which lowers their hunting success, ultimately altering
the mix of wildlife [47, 48]. Decreased vision does not just hinder their hunts, as
cheetahs are also more likely to consider livestock as prey over wildlife, becom-
ing a problem animal to farmers and increasing conflict [49]. Throughout Africa,
cheetahs are known to frequent certain trees [14, 47].
Changes in the arid ecosystems in favor of human needs have also created
problems, mainly from overgrazing of livestock leading to desertification, leaving
limited grazing for wildlife. Further compounding this issue, forces of nature that
Wildlife Population Monitoring
are unpredictable and difficult to manage such as climate change, negatively affect
agriculture and wildlife as rangelands become drier and vegetation is altered [50].
This also affects distribution and abundance of prey [14, 45]. And, as the human
population grows, air and water become more polluted, habitat is lost to develop-
ment, and the climate crisis deepens. Ultimately, the cheetahs chances for survival
depend greatly on the re-balancing of the ecosystem and the restoration of habitat
so it will support sufficient natural prey [26].
Learning to hunt is the most critical survival skill that the cubs must develop
[13]. At 1-year-old cubs are participating in hunts and the mother, while assur-
ing enough kills for the family’s survival, will allow the cubs to join in. Cheetahs
hunt in the early morning and early evening and capture their prey by stalking to
within 10–30 yards or as far as 80 yards before beginning the chase [13]. During
a hunt, cheetahs usually catch their prey after an average 200-yard sprint [13].
Although fast, their ability to accelerate at a high speed is most critical, and their
maneuverability enabling them to turn rapidly is more important than their speed.
Most hunts take place at a slower speed, as prey are dodging in efforts to flee [39].
Successful hunters need not only speed but stealth as well. They move slowly
and remain low in the grass, staying downwind, sometimes hiding behind small
mounds to obscure their approach, taking advantage of their coloring to camouflage
their appearance and blend into their surroundings [13].
Only 10% of cheetah chases are successful, and diet depends largely on where
the cheetah lives [13]. Medium-sized and smaller prey, such as antelope and
gazelles, hare and the young of larger antelope like wildebeest (Connochaetes), kudu
(Tragelaphus sp.) or oryx (Oryx sp.) and small warthog (Phacochoerus) are the most
common targets, and coalition males often take larger prey species like zebra (Equus
hippotigiris, E. dolichohippus), kudu or ostrich (Struthionidae) [14]. Asiatic cheetahs
prey on goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa), ibex (Capra sp.), wild sheep (Ovis
sp.) and chinkara (Gazella bennettii) [14]. Factors that lead to a successful hunt
include herd size, prey response, number of cheetahs hunting, and the distance
the cheetah runs [13, 39]. The cheetah can go days without water because they get
hydration they need from the blood of their prey and will gorge themselves on a big
enough kill and then fast for 2–5 days; however, they will hunt daily if possible [13].
Threats from other predators is one of the main reasons why nearly 80% of wild
cheetahs today are found outside of protected areas (like national parks or wildlife
reserves) and living alongside human communities [9, 28, 39]. In protected areas,
cheetahs often lose their kill to larger and more aggressive predators. Cheetahs tend
to lose 10–15% of their kills to other predators [39]. Cheetahs are apex predators
and the best hunters on the savanna, they feed many species with their kills’ thus
increasing biodiversity of the ecosystem in which they live [14]. Without this bal-
ance, other species within the ecosystem will also be adversely affected, ultimately
resulting in negative consequences for the human population.
. Threats to the cheetah
Conservation research shows that the greatest conservation problems are not
biological but have more to do with humans. Climate change and human population
growth compounds these threats to an already genetically compromised species
[19, 25, 33, 35, 45, 50]. Human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss and illegal wildlife
trade have become the biggest threats to long-term cheetah survival [9, 26, 51, 52].
The majority of people who live alongside cheetahs are rural subsistence farm-
ers whose livelihoods depend on the health and wellbeing of their livestock. These
farmers have traditionally viewed cheetah as worthless vermin, a nuisance and a
Cheetahs Race for Survival: Ecology and Conservation
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threat. Some governments have sanctioned herd protection programs that allow for
cheetahs on farmlands to be trapped and removed or killed on sight [51]. Culling of
cheetahs in Namibia during the 1980s resulted in losses of nearly 7000 cheetahs due
to real and perceived conflict with livestock and game farmers [18, 53]. While these
programs were popular during the 1970s and 1980s, this led to a rapid, widespread
reduction in the numbers of wild cheetah, which fortunately has been stemmed by
the intervention of conservationists and the introduction of non-lethal predator
control techniques [19].
In Northern Africa, the rarity of the Saharan or desert cheetah is directly linked
to the rarity of the prey species, as the IUCN Red List lists both predator and prey
as critically endangered species [28]. The Saharan cheetah can still be found in
small numbers in Algeria (Ahaggar and Tassili N’Ajjer), Niger (Termit and Aïr),
and possibly also in Mali, Chad and Mauritania [9, 28]. Due to the decline of prey,
mainly from poaching and overhunting, these cheetahs are living primarily on hare
(Lagomorpha) but are known to attack and kill young camels (Camelus dromedarius)
and goats (Capra sp), provoking retaliation [45].
Habitat destruction across Africa and Iran is one of the biggest problems
threatening cheetah survival. As wild lands are being destroyed and fragmented
by human expansion, landscapes across Africa that once supported thousands of
cheetahs now support only a few. With habitat loss comes the decline in wild game
species that provide prey for the cheetah [45]. As the human population continues
to grow exponentially, there is an every-increasing demand for land rights. This
affects the cheetah, as increased agricultural pressure and subdivision of land mean
a decrease in available habitat for the cheetah and other wildlife species [25].
For many African wildlife species, living within a protected national park or
private game reserve such as the Maasai Mara in Kenya, the Serengeti National
Park in Tanzania, or Kruger National Park in South Africa is the difference between
life and death. Animals that live on protected lands are guarded by rangers and
photographed by tourists, which makes them less likely to be poached. But for some
species, including the cheetah, living in protected areas results in greater competi-
tion with other larger and more aggressive predators that will steal their kills and
kill their cubs. There is a high cub mortality (up to 90% in protected areas), mainly
due to predation [15]. Consequently, nearly 80% of all cheetahs throughout their
range are found living outside of protected parks and reserves [9, 28].
The lifespan of an adult cheetah is between 8 and 10years [18, 42]. Adult mor-
tality is one of the most significant limiting factors for cheetah population growth
and survival [18, 54, 55].
Because of in-depth, in situ research studies of the wild cheetah that have taken
place since the early 1980s, we probably know more about this species than most
any other big cat species [24]. The unique genetic profile of the cheetah demands a
thorough understanding of their biology and capacity for reproduction. A poten-
tially critical factor for the long-term survival of the cheetah is its lack of genetic
variation relative to other felids [12].
Genetic homogeneity can make a species more susceptible to ecological and
environmental changes to which the world is subjected now and has been inter-
preted in the context of two potential risks: the expression of recessive deleterious
alleles and increased vulnerability to viral and parasitic epizootics that can affect
genetically uniform populations [11, 12]. Cheetahs are known to be very susceptible
to several feline diseases and are possibly more vulnerable due to the lack of hetero-
geneity in the population [11, 56, 57]. As cheetahs transverse the farmlands where
more villages occur, the potential for disease transmission increases. Given the spe-
cies lack of genetic diversity, monitoring the overall health of cheetah populations is
an important component of understanding and promoting its long-term viability.
Wildlife Population Monitoring
Another major threat is the trafficking of live cheetahs for the illegal pet trade.
Wildlife trafficking is one of the top five transnational crimes and it is impacting
affecting the survival of many species (U.N.Office on Drugs and Crime). While
cheetahs are not poached at the same high rates as elephants and rhinoceros in
Africa, an estimated 300 cheetah cubs are being smuggled out of the continent
each year to supply the illegal pet trade [52] (Figure ). Illegal capture is occurring
mostly in Ethiopia, Somalia and northern Kenya, with most cases being reported
in Somaliland [52]. Although trade in wildlife species products is regulated by both
international and national laws, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth
between $50–150 billion USD annually. Cheetahs, listed as an Appendix 1 species
under CITES, are removed from the wild for the pet trade and for their body parts.
Because the cheetah is light and built for speed and has a flight versus fight
instinct. For this reason, the cheetah is a sought-after pet in multiple regions of the
world [52]. In the Gulf States, cheetahs are one of the most popular exotic pets and
are a status symbol [52]. Photos posted on social media show cheetahs with gem-
studded collars posing in luxury vehicles beside their owners, or riding in speed-
boats, or in other outlandish depictions.
Keeping a wild cheetah as an exotic pet undermines the species, as its numbers are
so low it cannot sustain regular losses and still hope to survive. The illegal pet trade
is decimating cheetah populations that are already small and nearly unsustainable
[9, 52]. Five out of six cubs poached die before being sold into the pet trade. Cheetah
cubs that survive long enough to be sold most likely will not make it beyond 2 years of
age. All will become sick, disabled and die prematurely. Improper diet, environment
and lack of veterinary care result in a myriad of debilitating health problems [52].
Another human issue impacting the cheetah is tourism. Everyone who visits
Africa on safari wants to see a cheetah. While tourism helps bring international
attention to the cheetah and instills economic value in species survival, crowds of
multiple vehicles surrounding cheetahs can have a negative impact [20, 58, 59].
Cheetahs hunt in the early morning and late afternoon when most game drives take
place. Vehicles sometimes move between the cheetah and its prey so tourists can
Figure 2.
A caged cheetah cub confiscated from illegal wildlife trafficking. Cheetahs are often illegally sold as pets to the
Middle East and for everyone that makes it live into the trade, 5 die in transport.
Cheetahs Race for Survival: Ecology and Conservation
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get a better view. This interferes with the cheetahs ability to catch its prey and can
separate mothers from cubs [20, 58, 59].
Predators are exceptionally aware of tourists and their vehicles and sometimes
use them to their advantage. If a cheetah has made a kill it will most certainly lose it
if vehicles are present, since other predators, particularly the hyena, lion or jackal
are alerted by the tourists. If the cheetah has cubs, this is a very dangerous situa-
tion for them, as they are made more vulnerable by the interference of the vehicles.
Research conducted in the Maasai Mara recorded that nearly 30% of cheetah sight-
ings had more than 20 vehicles surrounding it, and of these, more than 50% were
less than 30 yards from the animal [58]. Nearly 60% were reported as being noisy
(hooting and engine revving) with tourists and drivers shouting or talking very
loudly [20]. The busiest time for the tourist vehicles was found to be between 4:40
and 6:30pm coinciding with the high times for hunting by cheetahs [20].
In the Maasai Mara, a high incidence in sarcoptic mange in cheetahs has been
linked to stress caused by tourism vehicles. Chronic stress induces immuno-
suppression, which in cheetahs has been found to contribute to a high occurrence of
uncommon diseases, like mange, gastritis and amyloidosis [56–58, 61].
. Conservation initiatives
Solving cheetah conservation crisis involves addressing a complex web of social,
environmental and economic issues. Although people are the root of most of the
problems facing the cheetah in today’s world, they are also the solution as well. Over
the past several years, conservation professionals have come together to look closely
at the crisis for the cheetah and devise strategies for cheetah survival [9, 24].
Though the situation for the wild cheetah is dire with less than 7100 wild adult
and adolescents remaining, there is hope for species’ long-term survival. Efforts to
educate communities living alongside cheetah through awareness building media
campaigns and to obtain government buy-in have been successful [60]. Range-wide
strategies for the cheetah have been developed and implementation is underway
through eastern, southern, north, west and central Africa [9, 14, 36]. Capacity
building for range country conservation scientist and agriculture extension officers
is an ongoing process, using the “train the trainer” approach [26, 60]. Committed
conservationists are focusing on the bigger picture, encouraging community
participation in finding solutions that alleviate conflict. The bigger picture allows
for a global perspective and a multi-species, integrated approach to cheetah
conservation.
At the 2003 World Park’s Conference, conservation practitioners agreed there
was need for community ownership and responsibility over assessing and address-
ing human wildlife conflict (HWC). To be successful, improved communication
on a local level between stakeholders and on a global level between experts, prac-
titioners, local communities and international conservation organizations would
be required. Guidance manuals, processes and systems needed to be developed,
and HWC mitigation needed to be supported by international political and legal
institutions.
In 2007 and again in 2012, government representatives, non-government
organizations (NGOs) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature
(IUCN) Species Survival Commissions (SSC) Cat Specialist Group met to develop
regional strategies for the survival of cheetahs [2022]. Since then, strategies for the
three regions of Africa have been developed: central, west, and southern, eastern
and north. The Range Wide Conservation Plan is a joint initiative of the Wildlife
Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London, in partnership with the
Wildlife Population Monitoring

Cat and Canid Specialist Groups of the IUCN/SSC.These strategies have created
a structure under which government programs could be developed, thus enabling
conservation action on a national level. Subsequently, National Action Plans have
been developed in 13 cheetah range countries [14, 2023].
Today, cheetah research and conservation programs are found in Botswana, Iran,
Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, South Africa, and Zimbabwe [14]. Furthermore,chee-
tah research and training has been conducted in countries such as Algeria, Angola,
Benin, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Niger, Zambia and Somaliland [26].
Community-based, natural resource management NGOs are also working with
many communities throughout Africa to develop integrated programs incorporat-
ing tourism development and economic incentives to diversify livelihoods for its
citizens [62]. Through outreach programs focusing on agricultural education, farm-
ers are being taught about livestock health and management along with grasslands,
wildlife and basic principles of ecology [19, 60]. Conservancies—collaborative
partnerships of neighboring farms united by common operating principles—are
being formed to implement standardized land management techniques that benefit
people, livestock and wildlife [33, 49, 63, 64]. Examples of successful conservancies
are being used to provide the basis for developing large-scale trans-boundary land
management plans for the future [64].
Conservation biologists increasingly underscore that national parks and reserves
alone are not large enough to sustain the wildlife they were created to protect. This
is particularly true for the cheetah [25, 65]. Therefore, the focus on conservation
of private land is crucial. Conservancies are one of the most important solutions
for cheetah survival as they promote sustainable management of natural resources
and development of responsible eco-tourism [64]. Conservancies give communi-
ties a vested interest in the welfare of local wildlife by giving them control over
the economic benefits from wildlife populations. As a result, fewer problems with
poaching are experienced and human-wildlife conflict is reduced [49].
With populations dwindling through most cheetah-range countries, cheetah
survival depends on people using an informed, integrated approach to conserva-
tion. Education is the foundation and must include communication, information
sharing and capacity building [60, 66]. In 2005, CCF began conducting month-
long courses to bring together conservation managers, scientists, and community
representatives from African cheetah-range countries and Iran [66]. The courses
build capacity, with a goal of stabilizing cheetah populations. More than 300
participants are now managing cheetah and wildlife conservation programs in their
own countries.
At the same time, research into ways to conserve and restore habitat for cheetahs
and farmers is also important by working with local livestock farming communi-
ties, to help improve their livelihoods. Assigning economic value to cheetahs and
having a thriving population on the landscape is key. Training programs have been
developed by the Cheetah Conservation Fund that address human-wildlife conflict
called Future Farmers of Africa (FFA) [66]. FFA teaches best agricultural practices
to rural farmers to help them manage integrated wildlife and livestock farmlands.
FFA also teaches how non-lethal predator control methods can reduce predation
losses. The use of livestock guarding dogs is included in this course. CCF has helped
develop similar programs throughout the cheetahs range. Many of these methods of
reducing predator conflict are also applicable or adaptable to other animals such as
mountain lions, jaguars and wolves, and have been used as models elsewhere in the
world.
FFA covers topics like livestock health, veterinary care, husbandry, and valua-
tion as well as wildlife and rangeland management, methods of non-lethal predator

Cheetahs Race for Survival: Ecology and Conservation
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.82255
control, predator identification and best practices to reduce livestock losses includ-
ing the use of kraals, birthing camps as well as seasonal, coordinated breeding.
The use of a livestock guarding dog has been shown to be a very effective tool and
is included in training [67] (see Figure ). The Anatolian shepherd or Kangal dogs
have been used for thousands of years in the Turkish region of Anatolia as livestock
guarding dogs, where they were formidable guardians of livestock against bears and
wolves [6971].
Since 1994, the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia, has bred and
placed these dogs with livestock farmers to reduce conflict with livestock and reduce
the killing of cheetahs and other predators. Farmers who use CCF LGDs report a
decrease in predation rates ranging over 80% [70, 72]. Simultaneously, LGDs reduce
the killing and capture of cheetahs and other predators [72, 73]. The dogs have been
so successful, similar programs in South Africa, Botswana and in Tanzania [68].
Increasingly, today’s consumers rely on product labels to guide their purchases,
and at the same time, are willing to pay a premium price to ensure a product’s
providence. In 2000, CCF conceptualized the Cheetah Country—Eco-Labeling
Program to encourage predator-friendly farming techniques in producing beef, goat
cheese, crafts, honey and wine [49, 62]. Under the brand Cheetah Country, CCF
hopes to transform the perception of cheetahs from vermin that threaten farmers’
livelihoods into that of a precious natural resource fostering tourism and economic
development. The eco-label certifies a product meets or exceeds a set of consistent
standards for environmental protection or social justice. Cheetah Country Beef, the
eco- label for cattle farmers who ascribe to predator-friendly farming practices, has
not yet been launched, however, under the voluntary certification, farmers would
sign an agreement stating they will not indiscriminately kill cheetahs on their farm-
land and in return, they would receive a price premium for their meat [49, 62, 74].
The extra money will help farmers cover the cost of implementing non-lethal
predator control measures, like the cost of calving kraals or keeping a livestock
guarding dog [49]. The most successful example of an eco-label in food produc-
tion is dolphin-friendly tuna, a concept that has gained traction around the world.
Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN), an international organization
that promotes conservation through facilitation and certification of responsibly-
produced agricultural products is putting these concepts to use for cheetahs as well,
if WFEN’s standards for certification are met [62].
Figure 3.
A goat herd protected by a livestock guardian dog in Namibia. Turkish Anatolian shepherd and Kangal dogs
are bred and placed with livestock through the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia.
Wildlife Population Monitoring

. Conclusion
The outlook for the cheetah is today in human’s hands. Cheetah populations
can rebound. But humans also have the capacity to save them. In many parts of
Africa, cheetahs and other large predators are viewed as threats to human liveli-
hoods, rather than species vital to maintaining healthy, balanced ecosystems. Good
livestock management can protect herds while allowing prey and room for cheetahs
and other predators. Having thriving cheetah populations also brings economic
value to land as they and other predator species help drive tourism.
Implementation of more programs now is critical, so future generations will
benefit from having cheetahs on earth. Continuing to expand our scientific research
will be important (Figure ), while collaborating with international institutions in
fields such as cheetah health, genetics, reproduction, ecology to establish popula-
tion numbers, as well as expanding training and capacity building programs will
be key in cheetah conservation, while expanding efforts to stop the illegal cheetah
trafficking. If we wait much longer, we will lose this amazing feline icon of speed
and grace. A holistic approach that considers all stakeholders is critical to balance
the needs of people, wildlife and the land and try to make their efforts sustainable.
This way, the communities are more likely to be good stewards of wildlife. The end
goal to save the cheetah is to achieve coexistence. This is the only way to ensure a
permanent place for cheetahs on Earth.
Education and outreach are key in building awareness for the cheetahs plight and
for developing sustainable practices that alleviate pressure on the species. Looking
to the future, teaching conservation and instilling a high regard for the environment
among young learners will help cheetahs secure a permanent place on Earth.
Creative approaches are also necessary. The future of the cheetah will require
enhancing the livelihoods of the human communities that live alongside them.
These include developing alternative income sources, such as eco-tourism, eco-
nomic incentives for predator-friendly products. The concept is that farmers in
cheetah range areas can be monitored and certified as practicing predator-friendly
livestock management. In return for being good stewards to the cheetahs on their
land, these farmers can be certified with the Cheetah Country eco-label and receive
premium prices for their products [49, 62]. A program in development, its model
Figure 4.
Satellite collars allow monitoring of cheetahs movements. Through understand the cheetah’s use of their large
home ranges (ave. 1500km2) allows for management plans can be used with rural communities to plan for the
cheetahs’ survival in the future.

© 2019 The Author(s). Licensee IntechOpen. This chapter is distributed under the terms
of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/
by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
Cheetahs Race for Survival: Ecology and Conservation
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.82255
could serve to protect all of the world’s predators, each of whom are threatened by
conflict with humans and yet are vital to maintaining the health and biodiversity of
their ecosystem.
Despite all of the problems facing the cheetah, including genetic uniformity,
competition with other large predators, destruction of habitat and conflict with
humans, this iconic animal has survived for thousands of years. Cheetahs continue
to fulfill their ecological role as the fastest mammalian apex predator on land. With
integrated conservation programs across large landscapes, survival of cheetahs for
future generations can be attained [26].
Acknowledgements
Thanks to the Cheetah Conservation Fund for their support of long-term
research (www.cheetah.org), Susan Yannetti and Natalie Minor for their assistance
with editing of this Chapter.
Author details
LaurieMarker
Cheetah Conservation Fund, Otjiwarongo, Namibia
*Address all correspondence to: director@cheetah.org

Wildlife Population Monitoring
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... Certified Wildlife Friendly enterprises generate new sustainable, legal livelihoods for people living in wildlife areas. In Namibia, predator-friendly farming techniques are implemented to produce beef and goat cheese; these techniques have improved ranchers' attitudes towards cheetahs 249 . In Colombia, Jaguar Friendly Coffee is grown and harvested in shade-grown coffee plantations that implement HWC management measures and provide temporary habitat for jaguars in critical areas for the species 250 . ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
The WWF/UNEP report features the global need for holistic and integrated human-wildlife conflict managment and the development of sustainable human-wildlife coexistence strategies. More than 150 experts from 40 organisations in 27 countries were interviewed and their contributions integrated into the report. The report, A future for all - the need for human-wildlife coexistence, highlights that HWC is as much a development and humanitarian issue as a conservation concern and risks derailing the Sustainable Development Goals. The call to action emphasizes that if the world is to have a chance of meeting the SDGs by the 2030 deadline, HWC must be explicitly included in SDG implementation plans, as well as at the heart of the Convention on Biodiversity’s new framework. Managing HWC in this way can lead to opportunities and benefits not only for biodiversity and impacted communities, but for society, sustainable development, production, and the global economy at large.
... Cheetah are considered "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, having disappeared from approximately 90% of their historical range in Africa (Durant et al., 2017;Menotti-Raymond & O'Brien, 1993) and present relatively low genetic diversity across the species range (Menotti-Raymond & O'Brien, 1993). The majority of remaining cheetah are found in Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa (Durant et al., 2017;Marker, 2019). Cheetah reintroductions in South Africa intensified in the early 2000s, with most of the remaining population currently managed as a growing metapopulation comprising over 461 cheetah on 63 fenced reserves. ...
Article
Due to global biodiversity declines, conservation programmes have increasingly had to consider reintroducing captive animals into the wild. However, reintroductions often fail as captive individuals may be naïve to predators and do not recognise or respond appropriately to predatory cues, contributing to high mortality rates soon after release. This study evaluates differences in predator-response behaviours between individuals from three experimental groups, a captive population (n = 13), a semi-wild population (i.e. raised in captivity and successfully released; n = 6) and a wild population (n = 2) of cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) to an artificially simulated auditory threat of lions (Panthera leo), a larger, natural predator in South Africa. Such comparisons improve our understanding of differences between captive and wild behaviours and provide an aspect to evaluating the relative success of reintroduction programmes. Changes in the proximal distance, the latency of approach and hesitation towards both control (African bush cricket, Acanthoplus discoidalis) and treatment (lion) auditory cues were observed for 29 cheetah from captive, semi-wild and wild populations in at least three trial replicates each. Overall, captive individuals consistently displayed poor predatory-response behaviours, approaching the treatment as often as the control, as well as spending more time near the stimulus (<10 m) and hesitating more often than semi-wild cheetah, which could distinguish between the control and treatment, consistently fleeing from the latter with little hesitation. Repeatability analyses indicated that these behavioural responses to predatory cues could not be explained by individual personality and between-trial learning comparisons showed no evidence of habituation. Our findings demonstrate how a priori testing for predator naïvety could inform future introductory decisions and thereby increase post-release survival rates, significantly improving the efficacy of reintroduction strategies. We, therefore, emphasise the importance of such research and screening in highly threatened species, such as cheetah, where reintroduction from captivity has become a necessary consideration.
Preprint
Full-text available
There are only about 7,100 adolescent and adult cheetahs remaining in the wild. With the majority occurring outside protected areas, their numbers are rapidly declining. Evidence-based conservation measures are essential for the survival of this species. Genetic data is routinely used to inform conservation strategies, e.g., by establishing conservation units (CU). A commonly used marker in conservation genetics is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Here, we investigated the cheetah's phylogeography using a large-scale mtDNA data set to refine subspecies distributions and better assign individuals to CUs. Our dataset mostly consisted of historic samples to cover the cheetah’s whole range as the species has been extinct in most of its former distribution. While our genetic data largely agree with geography-based subspecies assignments, several geographic regions show conflicting mtDNA signals. Our analyses support previous findings that evolutionary forces such as incomplete lineage sorting or mitochondrial capture likely confound the mitochondrial phylogeography of this species, especially in East and, to some extent, in Northeast Africa. We caution that subspecies assignments solely based on mtDNA should be treated carefully and argue for an additional standardized nuclear single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) marker set for subspecies identification and monitoring. However, the detection of the A. j. soemmeringii specific haplogroup by a newly designed Amplification-Refractory Mutation System (ARMS) can already provide support for conservation measures.
Chapter
Eight international environmental agreements directly affect cheetah conservation. Five are concerned primarily with in situ conservation; the other three exclusively with wildlife trade controls and their enforcement. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is the international forum which has devoted the greatest amount of attention to the cheetah specifically, and is currently of the most direct relevance to cheetah conservation. Under its tenets, legal international trade in wild cheetahs is regulated, thus facilitating national policies of consumptive sustainable use in both Namibia and Zimbabwe, as well as legal trade in captive-bred cheetahs, facilitating global ex situ conservation. CITES has been less effective at preventing illegal trade, particularly in live animals and also in skins. The illegal trade issue is now receiving attention, with efforts focused on preventing the smuggling of wild cheetah cubs from northeast Africa to the Gulf States.
Chapter
The origin and evolution of the cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, have been the subject of considerable attention because of the species' highly unusual and specialized morphology. In this chapter we review current knowledge concerning its relationship to other living felids, as well as its evolutionary roots, as inferred from fossil, morphological, and genetic data. At present, the data tend to support an Old World origin of the clade that includes Acinonyx, Puma, and the extinct North American genus Miracinonyx. The earliest appearance of the genus Acinonyx in the fossil record is in eastern and southern Africa approximately 4 million years before present, with the extant species first recorded in Africa about 2 million years later.A second, much larger species of Acinonyx, known as the giant cheetah, Acinonyx pardinensis, evolved outside of Africa and had a widespread distribution in Eurasia during the Pleistocene. Based on its morphology, the giant cheetah was not quite so specialized for speed as the extant species, but probably was among the fastest of Pleistocene large carnivores. Nevertheless, it disappears from the fossil record around 500,000 years ago.
Chapter
The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, is a charismatic, and iconic species that, due to its uniqueness and extreme popularity over the epochs, has been exploited to near extinction. Once found on three continents, this streamline carnivore is disappearing rapidly from its former range and faces a bleak future due to numerous factors, including, popularity by nobility as pets and hunting companions, human population growth, human-wildlife conflict, illegal trafficking, loss of genetic diversity, and many others. The conservation crisis this species is facing is overwhelming, yet a core of hard-working conservationists has been working diligently for decades to slow, and in some areas try to even reverse, their downward spiral. This narrative will give the reader an insight into the history of the conservation efforts for this species, what has been done to date, and what still needs to be developed to save this unique species.
Chapter
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) populations have dramatically declined due to habitat loss and fragmentation, declining prey base, conflict with livestock and farmed game, and illegal trade. Anthropogenic climate change multiplies all of these threats, increasing risks to future cheetah survival. Rising greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations prolong atmospheric retention of the sun's energy and assure global temperature increases. Increased frequencies of droughts and extreme rainfall, already observed, are "climate change symptoms" of warming that are expected to continue with unabated GHG rise. Anticipated declines in surface water availability will increase human food insecurity, human-wildlife competition, and landscape degradation, exacerbating the threats already facing cheetah conservation. Addressing these magnified threats will require societal actions that stop atmospheric GHG rise, and "scaling up" of local and regional conservation successes. Despite challenges, applying past lessons in large landscape conservation while addressing human needs, along with concerted global action, could assure the long-term persistence of wild cheetahs.
Chapter
Mitigating conflict between livestock farmers and cheetahs is key to conserving the species. Livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) have been used to reduce livestock losses to carnivores around the world. In Africa, cheetah conservation organizations have introduced purebred Anatolian Shepherds, encouraged the use of local dogs, and have experimented with crossbreeding local with purebred dogs. The resulting research has provided insights into how LGDs work under African conditions, guarding their livestock against the large carnivore guild. In this chapter, we examine the effectiveness of LGDs, both in terms of reducing livestock losses in a cost-effective manner and preventing retaliatory killing of cheetahs and other carnivores. Furthermore, we discuss the various factors contributing to LGD effectiveness, for example, behavioral training, working conditions, and breeding. Finally, we examine the future of LGDs as a means for human-cheetah conflict mitigation.
Chapter
From allozymes in 1983 to whole genomes in 2015, genetic studies of the cheetah have been extensive. In this chapter we provide an overview of the available literature. Overall, patterns of genetic variation provided evidence of low variability and suggest this loss occurred thousands of years ago. Differences between published subspecies were supported genetically. At a local scale, populations were generally considered panmictic with minor genetic structure. Although cheetahs have persisted despite low genetic variability, important questions arise from these findings: Does the cheetah have the ability to adapt to and evolve with future changes in environmental and infectious pressure? How would cheetahs cope with further loss of genetic diversity? Connectivity in the wild should be maintained via prevention of habitat loss, while management of small isolated populations may require reestablishing gene flow. Genetics could assist captive-breeding decisions and provide forensic evidence as to the geographical origin of illegally traded animals.
Chapter
The cheetah's distribution has been severely reduced in the last century, with habitat loss and fragmentation among the principal drivers of decline. All remaining populations are near or below recommended minimum thresholds for extinction risk. Our review suggests that the principal habitat factors are (1) access to sufficient prey, (2) interspecific impacts associated with other carnivores, and (3) the level of human tolerance. The cheetah's biology provides a level of resilience that allows them to disperse great distances and exist in a wide variety of marginal or even extreme habitats. We suggest that additional conservation efforts, designed to increase connectivity and reduce the impacts of habitat fragmentation, are needed outside of traditional focal areas for cheetah. In particular, connectivity conservation efforts should focus on reducing predator-human conflicts and maintaining adequate prey density in marginal habitats with low agricultural cultivation risk, where the primary land-use is nomadic livestock herding.
Chapter
In this chapter we provide an overview of educational programming used across cheetah conservation organizations, and include considerations for designing, implementing, and evaluating such programs for success. Examples are taken directly from existing organizations, and resources and references are provided to assist future practitioners.
Chapter
With only an estimated 7100 free-ranging adult and adolescent individuals left worldwide, the cheetah's (Acinonyx jubatus) survival requires the scaling up of conservation action. This chapter highlights the threats presented in this book and summarizes the actions being undertaken by cheetah conservationists, non-government organizations, and governments worldwide to prevent the extinction of the cheetah. As the cheetah is a particularly wide-ranging species, cheetah conservation requires a landscape level and integrated approach, including education and awareness-raising supported by ongoing research, and collaboration and communication with all stakeholders. Current conservation strategies need financial commitment and new methods of conflict mitigation and species management. Working both within and outside of protected areas has been highlighted as a critical need for species' survival. With a growing human population, pressures on resources needed for cheetah survival are increasing, therefore conservation actions need to be scaled up without delay and the wider international community must take a greater responsibility for their role in cheetah conservation.