Certain species may be seen as indicators of the quality of an environment. By monitoring individual cheetahs we can collect baseline data and determine the current number of cheetahs in the Greater Mara Ecosystem and determine the health and status of the cheetah population and, to an extent, the Mara as a whole.
Cheetah monitoring is based on individual identification rather than presence/absence. To find out more on how we identify individual cheetahs click here.
By monitoring individuals we can:
- estimate cheetah numbers
- establish population trends over time
- determine survivorship
- rapidly detect and respond to changes such as disease outbreaks
All these variables reflect the health of the cheetah population and is essential for cheetah conservation.
Animal behaviour is largely influenced by environmental circumstances and can therefore vary under different conditions. For example, cheetah studies in different areas illustrate that the size of home-ranges vary immensely between study sites. In Kruger National Park and Matusodona National Park home-ranges for both semi-nomadic females and males are > 200 km², in Serengeti National Park they are around 800 km² and in Namibia they are on average 1647 km². The Greater Mara Ecosystem is a critical part of the global cheetah range but little is known about cheetah ecology and behaviour in this area. One of our objectives is therefore to establish the general ecology of cheetahs in this area in order to have a sound understanding of the underlying ecological processes of a population that is of global importance. In addition this information is essential to critically analyse the results obtained from the study.
Data on prey preference, social organisation, litter size, cub survivorship, behaviour and daily activity patterns will be ascertained through cheetah sightings and behavioural observations. These data will then be used to understand cheetah behaviour and distribution in response to various environmental and anthropogenic variables, providing a powerful tool for wildlife management and animal conservation.
Determining the threats
Through our research we aim to identify which of the following threats could have a significant impact on the cheetah population in the Greater Mara ecosystem:
- Habitat fragmentation – hinders dispersal and increases interactions with humans
- Declining prey base – the number of prey available to cheetah could be declining as a result of habitat fragmentation and/or poaching
- Human-wildlife conflict – in those areas where cheetahs are in close proximity to humans and livestock, cheetahs could be decreasing as result of pre-emptive or retaliatory killing
- Disease – diseases have caused declines and local extinctions of carnivores around the world. It is therefore important to determine the degree to which cheetahs are exposed to diseases, particular in areas where wildlife come into contact with domestic animals
- Stress – anthropogenic factors could create unnaturally high stress levels which could have an impact on cheetah behaviour and survival
- Other carnivores – lions and spotted hyaenas are believed to have a major impact on cheetah survival through direct interaction’s such as cub predation and theft of kills. Whilst fatal interactions with lions and spotted hyaenas occur naturally, these interactions are likely to be more severe in areas where there are unnaturally high densities of other carnivores