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The status of Cheetah in the Eastern Cape cluster

In July 2014 the Eastern Cape cluster was comprised of 13 reserves which held 65 Cheetah. Three of these reserves are actually located in the Western Cape but are included in this cluster for management reasons. There are two state and eleven private game reserves in the cluster, with private reserves holding 81% of the clusters Cheetah.

Cheetah reintroductions in the Eastern Cape are relatively recent with first reintroduction taking place onto Shamwari Private Game Reserve in 2000. The NCCF reintroduced Cheetah into a further ten Eastern Cape reserves between 2001 and 2007. Cheetah reintroductions into two Eastern Cape reserves failed due to:
Lower tourism revenue during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Two reserves stopped tourist operations in 2010 and shifted to game sales as a source of revenue. Their Cheetah populations were removed in the process.

Figure 1. A timeline of Cheetah reintroductions into small fenced reserves in the Eastern Cape cluster.

Cheetah numbers in the Eastern Cape cluster increased substantially when one reserve lost control of its numbers. A founder population of four Cheetah increased to 34 Cheetah in the space of just 4 years. Cheetah numbers decreased when 21 Cheetah were removed from this reserve in 2010. Two Eastern Cape reserves also removed their Cheetah populations in 2010 as a result of the Global Financial Crises of 2008. Although Cheetah numbers appear stable from 2011 until 2014, the population has actually been growing rapidly during this period. Exactly 23 surplus Cheetah were removed from 8 Eastern Cape reserves between July 2011 and July 2014. These Cheetah were relocated to 13 other Metapopulation reserves including one in the Kalahari, one in the Lowveld, two on KwaZulu-Natal, three in the Eastern Cape and six in the Waterberg. During the same period only four Cheetah were brought into the Eastern Cape, all sourced Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal.


Figure 2. The number of Metapopulation Cheetah in the Eastern Cape cluster for the period January 2004 to July 2014.

There is potential for Metapopulation expansion in the Eastern Cape with two new reserves having expressed interest in Cheetah reintroduction in July 2014. There is however no demand for additional Cheetah by existing reserves.

Include map of Eastern Cape reserves

Origin of Eastern Cape Cluster Cheetahs
Eighty five percent of Cheetah present in the Eastern Cape cluster in July 2014 were born in the Eastern Cape. Three NCCF Cheetah that were used to establish this population are still alive. One of these NCCF Cheetah is a 15 year old female that gave birth to her 9th litter in January 2013. In July 2014 her offspring were present in 12 Metapopulation reserves located in four of the five management clusters. She is related to:
• 35% of Cheetah in the Eastern Cape cluster
• 37% of Cheetah in the Lowveld cluster
• 12% of Cheetah in the Waterberg cluster
• 6% of Cheetah in the KwaZulu-Natal cluster

The relocation of Metapopulation Cheetah related to this female can be problematic for genetic reasons. The are no free roaming Cheetah in the Eastern Cape. There have however been two incidences of Metapopulation Cheetah escaping and moving into to another Eastern Cape reserve. One of these movements took place over a very short distance whilst another escapee went on the walkabout for 9 months only to reappear on another reserve over 600km from the reserve he escaped from. Only one report of livestock losses was reported during this period in the Darlington Dam area where this male apparently killed 34 goats.

Figure 3. The origin of Metapopulation Cheetah in the Eastern Cape cluster.

Picture of Eastern Cape Cheetah release

Prey and habitat preference
More reliable data on the hunting behaviour of Cheetah in the Eastern Cape is available from Bisset & Barnard 2007. Questionnaire data collected from eight reserves suggests that the main prey items vary greatly amongst Eastern Cape reserves. Whilst Impala (Aepyceros melampus), Blesbok (Damaliscus dorcus) and Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula) have been recorded as the main prey items for Cheetah in this Cluster, they do not feature in Cheetah diet on certain reserves in the Eastern Cape cluster. Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) is a main prey item in reserves located in the drier Nama Karoo regions to the north of this cluster. Kudu is also the only prey item consistently taken on all reserves. When abundant, Ostrich (Struthio camelus) and Grey Duiker (Sylvicarpa grimmia) are regularly taken. The use of fence lines to ambush prey whilst hunting has been reported in only one Eastern Cape Cluster reserve.

Questionnaire data suggest that female Cheetah prefer thicker vegetation (spekboom, bushclump savannah with Vachellia karroo) whilst males prefer more open areas such as karroid shrubland, cleared lands and open grasslands. In reserves with extensive mountainous habitat both male and female Cheetah are known to compete for high mountain grassland habitat.

Picture of Cheetah in snow on Mt Camdeboo – few places in world where can see this

Management issues in the Eastern Cape cluster
Cheetahs have reportedly escaped on numerous occasions from seven of the ten reserves surveyed. In most cases recapture took place within a day and the problem was solved by darting and returning the escapee. One reserve lures escapees with a Profox caller.
When the project was launched in June 2011 it was realised that Eastern Cape managers attached a financial value to their cheetah. They argued that attaching a financial value made reserves more tolerant of breeding populations and encouraged better monitoring. Data collected since June 2011 suggests that this is indeed the case (Table 1). Reserve managers in other clusters argued that the danger of this approach was that cheetah would then be sold to the highest bidder rather than the most appropriate reserve. Captive facilities are often willing to pay considerably more for wild cheetah than a Metapopulation reserve would. Almost one third of surplus cheetah produced in the Eastern Cape since June 2011 were sold to captive facilities. Reserves have been informed of the ethical and welfare issues associated with

Differing ideas on the financial value of cheetah effectively created a barrier to gene flow. There were several incidents where reserves in the KwaZulu-Natal cluster were unwilling to pay for surplus cheetah available from the Eastern Cape cluster. Cheetah numbers in the Waterberg cluster decreased to the point that reserves in this cluster eventually made money available for the purchase of cheetah. Once a reserve has purchased cheetah then it also tends to attach financial value to these cheetah and any offspring produced by them. Many reserve managers speculate that the financial value that some reserves attach to their Cheetah is a product of the current demand for cheetah (July 2014).

Table 1. The percentage of reserves which attach a financial value to their cheetah in each management cluster (July 2014).