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Suitability of the reintroduction area

Size of property and Cheetah carrying capacity

Cheetah occupy home-ranges larger than would be predicted on the basis of their energy needs. Male territories in the Serengeti average 50 km2 whilst males and females without territories are known to move over 800 km2 every year (Laver 2005). A smaller study in Kruger National Park found that home-range sizes for a three male coalition were 126 km2, 195 km2 for a single male, and 150 km2 and 171 km2 for two female Cheetahs (Broomhall 2004). The number of Cheetah that can be accommodated in the reintroduction area depends on a number of factors including:

  • The carrying capacity of that property. Vegetation types with higher carrying capacity can accommodate more Cheetah.
  • Prey species present. The presence of more favoured prey species will allow for more Cheetah.
  • The social make-up of the introduced Cheetah population. A male coalition will require a smaller area than two non-coalition males or one male and one female. Coalitions do not kill significantly more prey than a singleton would.
  • The presence of other large predators. The presence of other competing large predators such as lion, leopard, hyena and wild dog may increase the proposed introduction area.

Taking the abovementioned factors into consideration, EZEMVELO (KZN Wildlife) do not allow the reintroduction of Cheetah onto properties smaller than 5 000ha. Local authorities in other provinces do tolerate reintroductions onto smaller properties. In vegetation types that have high carrying capacities for game animals, smaller properties may be suitable for reintroduction.

Reserves wishing to reintroduce Cheetah should utilise ecological models to demonstrate that their prey populations can sustain Cheetahs for a period of at least two years without supplementation. Below is a model developed by Hayward et al. (2007) that can be utilised to estimate predator densities:
Link to: http://conservation.bangor.ac.uk/PredatorCarryingCapacityCalculations.php.en

Risk factors in and around the reintroduction area

  1. All predators are in possible conflict with livestock farming activities. Cheetah are well known problem animals in areas where sheep and goats are farmed. They are however rarely known to take fully grown or even young cattle. This is due to the sheer size of cattle and the protective nature of female cattle over their young. If livestock farming activities are taking place in the vicinity of the reintroduction area then it is essential that (1) the area is large enough to avoid conflict, (2) there is sufficient prey, (3) the reserve is adequately fenced and (4) that this fence is maintained. Public relations are very important to ensure the successful introduction of Cheetah into any area. Shooting is a significant cause of Cheetah mortalities in areas where there is human conflict with wildlife.
  2. Domestic canids and felids are known to carry and transmit fatal diseases like catflu and rabies to Cheetah. Increased exposure to domestic dogs reduces the survival chances of reintroduced Cheetah. Knowledge of local canid and felid diseases disease prevalence is vitally important. Preventative immunization, particularly for feline TB and AIDS, is essential before any reintroduction takes place.
  3. Road kills are responsible for numerous Cheetah deaths each year. Public roads, airstrips or railway lines in or around the reintroduction area constitute a serious threat to Cheetah. Speed limits should strictly adhered to on reserve roads and airstrips should be cleared of game before being utilised.
  4. The presence of other top-order predators such as lion, spotted hyena and leopard have in many cases had devastating consequences on Cheetah reintroductions. Cheetah are rare in areas where there are high lion densities. Only predator adapted Cheetah should be introduced into reserves where other top order predators are present. Nevertheless, high lion and spotted hyena densities are likely to affect the final outcome of a Cheetah reintroduction.

Five Cheetah mortalities due to impact with vehicles or aircraft have been reported in Metapop reserves in past 8 years.