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The status of Cheetah in the KwaZulu-Natal cluster

In July 2014 the KwaZulu-Natal cluster was comprised of 10 reserves which held approximately 96 Cheetah. Nine of these reserves are located in Zululand whilst one is located close to Ladysmith in western Natal. There are two state and eight private game reserves in the cluster, with the two state reserves holding approximately half of the clusters Cheetah.

The first reintroductions into this cluster took place between 1965 and 1978 when 142 Namibian Cheetah were reintroduced into five former Natal Parks Board (state) reserves. Cheetah were subsequently removed from one of these reserves and the population in the other two simply disappeared. The NCCF reintroduced Cheetah into a further six KwaZulu-Natal reserves between 2002 and 2009. Cheetah reintroductions into five KwaZulu-Natal reserves failed due to:
• Undesirable impacts on the Tsessebe population (one reserve)
• Inadequate fencing (two reserves)

Figure 1. A timeline of Cheetah reintroductions into small fenced reserves in the KwaZulu-Natal cluster.

Cheetah numbers in the KwaZulu-Natal cluster peaked in 2009 when there were 107 Cheetah recorded in the cluster. In an attempt to control increasing lion numbers, two large private game reserves in the cluster experimented with lion contraceptives. This resulted in large lion prides splitting in smaller groups or singletons, resulting in a higher lion cheetah encounter frequency. Cheetah numbers decreased significantly on these two reserves and caused a small decline observed in KwaZulu-Natal population between 2009 and 2012. The population stabilised in 2012 and 14 surplus cheetah have since been moved out of the cluster.

Figure 2. The number of Metapopulation Cheetah in the KwaZulu-Natal cluster for the period January 2004 to July 2014.
There is potential for Metapopulation expansion in the KwaZulu-Natal cluster with three new reserves having expressed interest in Cheetah reintroduction in July 2014. At the same time the demand for Cheetah by existing reserves stood at 10.

Map of KZN cluster reserves

Origin of KwaZulu-Natal Cluster Cheetahs
An encouraging development has been the establishment of a small free roaming population in the Zululand portion of the KwaZulu-Natal cluster. Three reserves have recently been colonised by cheetah of unknown origin. This natural gene flow reduces the need for intensive management. Several reserves in Zululand do however have large populations that don’t require constant swapping to maintain the genetic integrity of the population. For this reason more three quarters of KwaZulu-Natal cluster cheetah were born on the reserve where they currently reside (July 2014).

Figure 3. The origin of Metapopulation Cheetah in the KwaZulu-Natal cluster.

Prey and habitat preference
Comprehensive data obtained from eight Zululand reserves indicate that the main three prey items taken in this area are Impala (Aepyceros melampus), Nyala (Nyala angasii) and Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros). Where Southern Reedbuck (Redunca arundinum) and Tsessebe (Damaliscus lunatus) are common they are regularly taken. Rarely taken prey items include very young Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), Blue Duiker (Philantomba monticola), Bushpig (Potamochoerus larvatus), Cane Rat (Thryonomys gregorianus), Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula), Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris), Scrub-hare (Lepus saxatilis), Oribi (Ourebia ourebi) and White-tailed Mongoose (Ichneumia albicaudu). The use of fence lines to corner prey whilst hunting has been reported in three KZN Cluster reserve.

Figure 4. Main prey items of KwaZulu-Natal cluster Cheetah.

Preliminary data suggest that KZN Cheetah prefer more open areas but that habitat is not really a limiting factor. Cheetah are regularly observed in sand forest, riverine areas, thornveld and even rocky hills. Four reserves reported that Cheetah spend considerable periods of time on fencelines.

Management issues in the KwaZulu-Natal cluster
Cheetahs have escaped on numerous occasions from seven of the eight reserves surveyed. In most cases recapture took place within a day and the problem was solved by darting and returning the escapee. When there was a possibility of livestock losses helicopters were utilised as a darting platform to immobilise Cheetah. Cheetah regularly escape through holes dug under fences by Warthog. Two reserves reported that Cheetah frequently escape after periods of heavy flooding when fences are washed away. In some cases Cheetah came back naturally after crossing reserve boundaries but some reserve did reportedly lure escapees with carcasses.

Numerous reserves in the KwaZulu-Natal cluster have rural communities living on their boundaries. The level of snaring observed in KwaZulu-Natal reserves is considerably higher than in other clusters. Fourteen cheetah have been killed by snares in this cluster since 2004. Only one snaring mortality has been reported the other four management clusters for the same period. The perpetrators of these killings are rarely caught and prosecuted. The only successful prosecution was achieved in September 2013 when poachers failed to remove the collar around one of the male cheetahs they had snared (http://www.thenewage.co.za/Detail.aspx?news_id=123142&cat_id=1007).

Pic of inadequate fencing – cheetah removed from three KZN reserves due to inadequate fencing and associated management problems

Pic of rural KZN community – these communities surround many KZN reserves – something like that