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Unmanaged populations in large protected areas

Two protected areas in South Africa, namely the Kruger National Park and Kalahari-Gemsbok National Park, are large enough to hold sustainable Cheetah populations that do not require constant management.

The Cheetah population in the Kruger National Park was first estimated in 1964 when Pienaar (1969) used the parks register system to deduce an estimate of 263 Cheetahs. Thereafter estimates were obtained using photographic surveys in 1990/1 (Bowland 1994) and 2004/5 (Kemp & Mills 2005) and 2008/9 (Marnewick et al. 2014) with population estimates of 172, 102 and 183 respectively. All photographic surveys gave a population estimate of the minimum number of animals alive on 1 January of the survey period (Maddock & Mills 1994).

Concerns about Kruger’s dwindling population prompted the introduction of 16 Cheetahs from Namibia in 1968. This was the first of three batches intended to boost local numbers. Whilst in quarantine at Tshokwane, most of the reportedly young Cheetah contracted a tick-transmitted bacterial infection called Rickettsiosis. Two died but after intensive treatment four adults were released between Tshokwane and Satara. A second group of eight was released near Crocodile Bridge and further ten along the Sabie River and at Tshokwane. Several returned to their holding pens in an emaciated condition and had to be artificially fed or recaptured. The fate of the remainder is not known although some of the 34 Namibian Cheetah that were introduced into Kruger are thought to have survived and integrated with the local population (pers.comm Gus Mills).

The South African portion of the Kgalagadi National Park is the only protected area in South Africa that has never reintroduced Cheetah from outside sources. Mills (1990) estimated that there were about 60 Cheetahs on the South African side of this reserve. A photographic survey similar to those carried out in Kruger were performed between June 1998 and July 1999. Eighty individuals consisting of 31 males, 19 females, 4 unsexed individuals and 26 cubs were identified (Knight 1999). These Cheetah were nearly all recorded along the Aubb and Nossob dry river-beds that run through the area and where tourist activity and springbok are concentrated. A study on the Kalahari Cheetahs is currently being completed by Gus Mills.

Fig 4. Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park are the only protected areas in South Africa that have Cheetah populations large enough not to require management.