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The status of Cheetah in the Kalahari cluster

In July 2014 the Kalahari cluster was comprised of 4 reserves which held 55 Cheetah. Kalahari reserves are located in three provinces including two in the Northern Cape, one in North-West and one in the Free State. The Free State reserve does not strictly fall within the Kalahari but is included in this cluster for management reasons. All four Metapopulation reserves in the Kalahari are private reserves. There are two State reserves in the region but these reserves have permeable fencing and their cheetah are considered to form part of the large free roaming population that extends into Botswana.

The first reintroduction into the Kalahari cluster took place in 1998 onto Tswalu Private Game Reserve. The NCCF reintroduced Cheetah into only one Kalahari reserve in 2004. A large number of free roaming cheetah were fenced in with the establishment of a 94 000ha reserve in 2007. The most recent addition to the Kalahari cluster is a Free State reserve which introduced cheetah through the Metapopulation Project in 2013. To date all Cheetah reintroductions into five Kalahari reserves have been successful.

Cheetah numbers in the Kalahari cluster increased substantially in 2007 when approximately 30 free roaming cheetah were fenced in with the establishment of a large reserve. Number have slowly increased since 2010 due to a small number of free roaming cheetah colonising reserves. A number of cheetah are also confiscated by border officials on remote border posts in the Northern Cape. These cheetah are often released onto Metapopulation reserves.

Figure 2. The number of Metapopulation Cheetah in the Kalahari cluster for the period January 2004 to July 2014.
There is potential for Metapopulation expansion in the Kalahari with at least three of state reserves constituting suitable reintroduction sites. The fencing on these reserves is however in urgent need of replacement before Cheetah reintroduction can be considered.

Include map of Kalahari reserves

Origin of Kalahari Cheetahs
Three of the four Kalahari reserves are located within the resident range of free roaming cheetah in South Africa. A large number of free roaming cheetah were fenced in when these reserves were established. The range of free roaming cheetah in the Kalahari appears to be extending southwards with two free roamers colonising a Kalahari reserve near Groblershoop in 2013. Many of the former free roaming cheetah that are now fenced into Kalahari reserves bolt at the sight of humans and have limited tourism value. More habituated cheetah have recently been brought in from other clusters to improve the quality of cheetah sightings in Kalahari reserves.

Figure 3. The origin of Metapopulation Cheetah in the Kalahari cluster.

Photograph of Kalahari Cheetah release

Prey and habitat preference
Questionnaire data obtained from reserve managers suggest that the main prey items for Metapopulation Cheetah in the Kalahari are Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis), Gemsbok sub-adults (Oryx gazella) and Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris). Where Ostrich (Struthio camelus) are common they are regularly taken. Other prey items regularly taken include Eland calves (Taurotragus oryx), Impala (Aepyceros melampus) and juvenile Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus). Prey items not regularly taken include Hartebees (Alcelaphus caama), Roan (Hippotragus equinus) and Tsessebe (Damaliscus lunatus). The use of fence lines to ambush prey whilst hunting has not been reported in Kalahari cluster reserves, probably due to the large area to fence ratio.
Kalahari cluster Cheetah spend much of their time in Kalahari Thornveld, the dominant vegetation type in the cluster. Females are known to move into mountainous areas when they have cubs.

Pic of springbok and Gemsbok – main prey items of Kalahari Cheetah – unlike situation in other clusters

Management issues in the Kalahari cluster
An unusually high proportion of Cheetah deaths in the Kalahari have occurred due to immobilisation complications. This highlights the importance of utilising of vets with sufficient predator experience. Although most Kalahari reserves are located within the resident range of free roaming cheetah, reserves are often blamed for livestock losses on neighbouring farms. Kalahari cheetah are not monitored as well as metapopulation cheetah in other clusters. Only two incidents of escaping Cheetah were reported by Kalahari reserves. In one incident, a helicopter was immediately called in and recapture took place within two hours. In the second incident, the escapee was caught in a gin trap and died shortly afterwards. On both these occasions, the Cheetah were reported to have followed prey through the fence whilst hunting.

Reserves in the Kalahari are large and have less developed road networks. Most Cheetah in Kalahari reserves are former free roaming animals that are former free roamer that move off at the sight of humans or vehicles. These cheetah have minimum tourism value. One Kalahari reserve is attempting to improve the tourism value of their Cheetah by bringing in habituated Cheetah from other clusters. This can also be achieved by capturing resident cheetah, habituating them during a short boma period and collaring them before release back onto the reserve. This should only be done on Kalahari reserves that have good fencing. Habituated cheetah will certainly be persecuted if they move onto neighbouring commercial farms. In June 2014, only five Kalahari Cheetah were reported to be collared. This is unlike the situation in other clusters where up to 40% of Cheetah are typically collared.

Pic of dead Cheetah due to immobilisation complications Use of vets with suitable predator experience is advised.