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Aspects of founder animals

Captive Cheetah versus wild Cheetah

The veterinary and monitoring costs associated with the rewilding of captive Cheetah are considerable. Captive Cheetah are often injured when attempting to kill prey animals that are too large or simply inappropriate. Captive Cheetah are also naïve in the presence of other large predators, particularly when they have been raised in close proximity to other large predators. The level of habituation observed in many captive Cheetah can also be problematic. Captive animals often hang around lodges making these areas unsafe for children. In one incident captive Cheetah had to be removed from a reserve because they hung around a staff village feeding on their chickens. They are also known to chase cyclists and reserve personnel that utilise motorcycles. Captive Cheetah should only be sourced for introduction onto Metapopulation reserves when there are absolutely no options for sourcing wild Cheetah. It is highly recommended that wild Cheetah be sourced through the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Metapopulation Cheetah versus free roaming Cheetah captured on farmland

Free roaming Cheetah captured on commercial farmland should not be sourced for reintroduction onto small fenced reserve for the following reasons:

  1. Free roamers are predator naïve. Other large predators such as Lion and Spotted Hyena have been eradicated from commercial farmland in South Africa. The 157 NCCF Cheetah removed from commercial farmland did poorly when they were reintroduced into small fenced reserves and encountered Lion and Spotted Hyena for the first time.
  2. Free roamers do not respect reserve fencing. Free roaming Cheetah were raised on commercial farmland and are experts at moving through fencing, no matter how elaborate. These animals often move off of reserves as soon as they arrive.
  3. Free roamers often become ‘problem’ animals once they escape reserve boundaries. Many of these Cheetah have killed and eaten domestic animals whilst they were farmland. Once they move off of reserve they are often responsible for considerable livestock losses, leading to poor relations with surrounding land owners.
  4. Free roamers do not make good tourism animals are they are heavily persecuted on farmland. These Cheetah bolt at the sight of humans and have limited tourism value.
  5. A PHVA (Population Habitat Viability Analyses) carried out in 2009 (CBSG IUCN/SSC 2009) found that continual removal of Cheetah from farmland may affect the long-term survival of free roaming Cheetah. Free roaming Cheetah constitute anything between 30 and 70% of South Africa’s wild Cheetah. This population is important from a conservation perspective and should not be subjest to further disturbance. Exactly 157 free roaming Cheetah were removed from commercial farmland between 1999 and 2009.
    Catching wild Cheetah from outside sources to supplement Metapopulation numbers is not recommended. The Metapopulation should be self sustainable and should not negatively impact other wild Cheetah populations. Metapopulations reserve should source Cheetah from other

Metapopulation reserves for the following reasons:

  • Most Metapopulation Cheetah are predator adapted.
  • Metapopulation Cheetah are habituated and have high tourism value. Their habituated to humans allows them to be monitored and managed more easily.
  • Metapopulation Cheetah generally respect reserve fencing.

Genetics

Related male and female Cheetah should not be utilised for reintroduction onto the same reserve. Brother-sister, parent-sibling and cousin-cousin matings are strongly discouraged. The effects of inbreeding in felines are well known and include:

  • An elevated incidence of recessive genetic diseases
  • Lower birth weight
  • Slower growth rate
  • Smaller adult size
  • Loss of immune system functioning
  • Reduced fertility in both litter size and in sperm viability
  • Higher neonatal mortality
  • Fluctuating asymmetry
  • Increased congenital defects such as tail kinks and heart defects

Some reserve managers argue that these effects are often only observed following three or four generations inbreeding. This opinions do not take greater conservation goals into consideration. Lehmkuhl (1984) and Thomas (1990) estimate the average minimum viable population size (MVP) to ensure between 90 and 95 percent probability of survival between 100 to 1 000 years into the future at 500 to 1 000 individuals for terrestrial vertebrates. The Metapopulation is well short of these numbers. A concerted effort needs to be made to avoid any inbreeding so that there is no loss of heterozygosity.

Outbreeding should also be avoided. Under no circumstances should Cheetah from outside the southern Africa sub region be utilised for reintroduction into South African reserves. A major component of the metapopulation project is to accumulate genetic information for all Cheetahs in small fenced reserves in South Africa. In July 2014 the Endangered Wildlife Trust had in its possession biological samples for 25% of adult Metapopulation Cheetah. These samples are in the process of being analysed and this information will be utilised to guide future Metapopulation movements. Any reserves wishing to query the genetic makeup of Metapopulation Cheetah that they are hoping to source should contact the Metapopulation co-ordinator (link to my contact details).

It is requested that all Metapopulation reserves assist in the collection of genetic material. Biological sampling kits will be made available free of charge by the Endangered Wildlife Trust. Blood, mucous and hair tissue should be collected from all metapopulation Cheetah when veterinary work is performed on Metapopulation Cheetah (e.g. vaccination of cubs or injured Cheetah), when Cheetah are relocated and when collars are changed. This information will be entered into a centralised Biobank and will be made available to reserve managers on request.

Until this genetic information becomes available, Cheetah movements will be guided by the Metapopulation studbook. Heritage information from the Metapopulation studbook can be obtained from the Endangered Wildlife Trust (link to my contact details). The genetic management of Cheetah in isolated fenced reserves is of the utmost importance to ensure that genetic diversity is maximised.

Sex ratios, age for reintroduction and sequence of reintroduction

In natural systems Cheetah occur in male coalitions, as single territorial males and as single females. Reserve managers prefer to utilise male coalitions for reintroduction because that are thought to have higher chances of survival and offer better game viewing. Ecological studies suggest that two males hunt almost as regularly as a single male would whilst three males are likely to hunt more often and catch larger prey (pers.comm Gus Mills). If reserve managers are concerned by economic impacts due to loss of prey animals, then it is advised that coalitions of two males be introduced. Single males of similar age and size can be artificially bonded into coalitions (link to artificial bonding). Naturally occurring coalitions should not be split.
Single females should be introduced at a natural ratio of one to two females for every two males. It is recommended that females be older than 18 months when relocated to a new reserve. Cheetah normally reach independance at 18 months of age but this may vary from 14 to 22 months. Management needs to mimic natural processes as far as possible. When Cheetah younger than 18 months are moved, they should be moved with their mothers.
Where possible, female Cheetah should be utilised for reintroduction onto a new reserve before males. Established males tend to harass females that enter their territory and will in many cases kill an unfamiliar female that is not accustomed to the area. Anecdotal feedback from reserve managers suggests that keeping a female Cheetah in a boma that is adjacent to a male boma decreases male aggression towards to the female when both are finally released onto the reserve.