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Metapopulation Cheetah

In July 2014 there were 318 Cheetah in Metapopulation reserves with the KwaZulu-Natal cluster containing the most Cheetah and the Lowveld cluster the least (Figure 1.). Kalahari reserves have considerably more Cheetah per reserve than in other clusters (Figure 2.) whilst Lowveld reserves have on average only 3.4 Cheetah per reserve. Management of Cheetah on reserves with small populations is essential to ensure their demographic and genetic integrity. Although Kalahari Reserves have on average considerably more Cheetah, population density on these reserves is less than half that of reserves in other clusters (Figure 3.). Kalahari thornveld has a low animal carrying capacity compared to vegetation types in other clusters. The Cheetah density in the Eastern Cape may be artificially high due to a number of reserves supplementing prey numbers in order to sustain unnaturally large predator populations.


Figure1. Total number of Metapopulation Cheetah in each management cluster (July 2014).

Figure 2. Average number of Cheetah per reserve in each cluster (July 2014).

Figure 3. Average density of Cheetah in each cluster per 10 000ha (July 2014).

Approximately 60% of Metapopulation Cheetah are adults (Figure 4). There are almost twice as many adult male Cheetahs in the Metapopulation as adult females. Four small reserves do not have the capacity to retain a breeding population and have only male coalitions. The future reintroduction of Cheetah onto reserves that only have the capacity to hold a single sex of Cheetah will not be encouraged unless there is a surplus of Metapopulation Cheetah. In this case these reserves may serve as a holding facility for genetics that should not be lost to the Metapopulation. Reserves prefer male coalitions as they provide better viewing opportunities and are thought to consume as much prey as a single male would. Many reserve managers also believe that coalitions have a higher survival rates than single males, however there is little empirical evidence exists to support this. For these reasons, numerous non-related males have been artificially bonded. Fifty six percent of males in the Metapopulation currently exist in coalitions.

Figure 4. Demographic composition of Metapopulation Cheetah (July 2014).

The removal of problem Cheetah from farmland ceased in 2009 with the disbandment of the NCCF. Metapopulation numbers immediately decreased from 329 in 2009 to 274 in 2012. This rapid decrease raised questions about the long term viability of the Metapopulation. The major cause for the decline in numbers was:

  1. The loss of wild Cheetah to captivity. Twenty seven percent of wild Cheetah moved off of metapopulation reserves between 2009 and 2012 were relocated to captive facilities. Most of these Cheetah were sourced from the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal reserves.
  2. the high incidence of anthropogenic mortalities recorded in the Metapopulation. Twenty seven percent of all recorded Cheetah mortalities in the metapopulation are due to human related factors.
  3. the high incidence of single sex reserves in the Metapopulation during this period. Forty two percent of reserves had only a since sex of Cheetah present in January 2012.
  4. unnecessary contraception. A further eight percent of reserves had contracepted their Cheetah during this period, precluding the possibility of breeding.

Figure 5. The number of metapopulation Cheetah in the metapopulation for the period January 2004 to July 2014.

The following measures were implemented to curb the rapid decline in Cheetah numbers observed for the period 2009 until 2012:

  1. Government officials that deal with Cheetah permits were consulted individually on the ethical and welfare issues associated with moving wild Cheetah into captivity. Not a single metapopulation Cheetah has been lost to captivity since December 2012.
  2. Reserves were encouraged to hold both sexes of Cheetah. Nine females were moved onto male only reserves. One male was moved onto a female only reserve.
  3. Four reserves were encouraged not to carry out follow up contraception. Females successfully came off of contraception on two reserves and produced litters.
  4. Reserves were encouraged to utilise the services of predator experienced veterinarians only. This led to a slight reduction the number of immobilisation mortalities.
    The metapopulation stabilised in mid 2012 and appear to be making a recovery (Figure). As of July 2014 there remained a demand for 45 Cheetah by 26 reserves.

The Metapopulation is a highly managed population. At least 34% of Metapopulation Cheetah (July 2014) have been immobilised at some point in their lives. Metapopulation Cheetah are immobilised to:

  1. collar subadult Cheetah that are about to reach independance
  2. replace faulty collars or those that have low battery life
  3. relocate surplus individuals to other reserves
  4. swap individuals with other reserves in order to prevent inbreeding

More than half Metapopulation cheetah were born on the reserve where they are currently resident, whilst exactly one quarter where obtained from another reserve. Although it is absolutely necessary to move individuals between reserves in order to maintain genetic and demographic integrity of the Metapopulation, excessive management is not encouraged. Cheetah are more sensitive to immobilisation that other large predators. Of the 76 cheetah moved off of metapopulation reserves between June 2011 and June 2014, 16 (22%) were lost due to immobilisation complications. Only 11 of the 157 NCCF cheetah moved onto Metapopulation reserves between 1999 and 2009 were still alive in July 2014. Almost 40% of Metapopulation reserves are located within the range of free roaming cheetah in South Africa. A small number of free roaming cheetah have colonised these reserves and become resident. On the contrary, the establishment of three metapopulation reserves resulted in a large number of free roaming cheetah being fenced in.



Figure 6. The origin of Metapopulation Cheetah (July 2014).