Cheetah population in South Africa has almost doubled in 9 years-how?

Cheetah are one of those species that have done rather badly over the last century. Back in 1900 there was around 100,000 cheetahs across Africa, now there is 7100.

Many people would argue that all species have suffered similar losses, but this isn’t true. For instance African lions numbered around 200,000 in 1900. They number now around 30,000 (in other words while lions have fallen to 15% of their former population, cheetah have fallen to 7%).

South African Cheetah

Part of the problem is that cheetah are incapable of defending themselves against the big cats, and as such in many small reserves there are few if any cheetah because they are enclosed into an area that is too small to give them the space to live away from the lions.

In theory cheetah can live relatively well outside protected areas, indeed many of the population do. However this raises its own problems-when living on smaller private areas of land often there is not the means to pass into the neighboring land to mate,this can quickly lead to small populations of cheated dying out.

Before this project started the only about 1300 cheetah in South Africa. So what did this project do? 

It is relatively simple in theory. If each population is not big enough to maintain a healthy genetic mix, there must be a regular exchange of cheetah between these reserves.

The population was treated as one large population, and then individuals were regularly trans-located between different reserves. The endangered wildlife trust pioneered this project,and made sure with the animals who were moved were genetically distinct from those they would meet in new place.

In fact this policy has been so incredibly successful, that they have started trans-locating cheetahs to other places outside South Africa.

When the project started, they looked at 41 different reserves which had a combined cheetah population 217. By moving them around carefully,  there are now 419 cheetah spread across 60 different reserves (a number that represents more than a third of  South Africa’s remaining cheetah).

Obviously the perfect situation for cheetah, would be to have the the incredibly large wild areas remaining that existed back in 1900, this is not going to happen. The only part of South Africa where cheetah roam free in a significant population, is the Kruger national park which generally has a population that bounces between about 50 and 350 depending on the populations of other animals.

However this is quite an exciting move. Cheetah numbers in southern Africa have fallen across the board. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana’s cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.

If these other countries can follow a similar translocation program to South Africa, and have a similar impact of doubling their number in the African cheetah numbers would go back up above 10,000 within the next decade.

There are several things that should be noted about cheetah. They almost never have any danger to human life, even coming across a young child unaccompanied they are unlikely to harm it. Generally areas that have animals such as cheetah reintroduced also find there is a knock-on impact on the conservation of other animals such as the big five-therefore quite apart from cheetah being one of the animals people like to see, it is also good for general conservation in the area. 

While not suitable on all farming land,cheetah can exist relatively happily along set and types of livestock, and certainly when growing crops. The advantage of having cheetah living on land with crops growing, is that they keep all the pests under control, happly eating mice and rats as well as various antelope species that still exist in these areas.

This project is clearly worth watching. The endangered wildlife trust, with this plan could potentially help the cheetah in southern Africa recover over the next decade, and then perhaps moved to parts of east and west Africa where’s cheetahs are even more threatened. I will try to keep you informed on this website, though if I miss anything feel free to message the article you found.

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