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The status of Cheetah in the Waterberg cluster

In July 2014 the Waterberg cluster was comprised of 13 reserves which held 60 Cheetah. Five of these reserves do not strictly fall within the Waterberg region but are included in this cluster for management reasons. There are four state and nine private game reserves in the cluster, with private reserves holding 85% of the clusters Cheetah.

The first reintroduction into this cluster took place in 1975. The founder population of five male and three females quickly increased to over 50 Cheetahs in four years. Cheetah were removed from this property in 1983 and have never been reintroduced again. The NCCF reintroduced Cheetah into a eleven Waterberg reserves between 1999 and 2008. Cheetah reintroductions into five Waterberg reserves failed due to:
• Undesirable impacts on prey populations
• Lower tourism revenue during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
• Land use changes on two reserves
• Inadequate fencing

Figure 1. A timeline of Cheetah reintroductions into small fenced reserves in the Waterberg cluster.

Cheetah numbers in the Waterberg cluster decreased substantially during the global financial crisis. Ten Cheetah were removed from one reserve in 2009. Two reserves removed their entire Cheetah populations in 2010. These Cheetah were sold for financial gain and the their removal allowed for prey populations to recover, thereby increasing profits from game sales. The population in this cluster stabilised when 12 Cheetah were brought in from Eastern Cape and one from the Lowveld between July 2011 and May 2014. A full recovery was achieved when six females gave birth to 17 cubs between August 2013 and May 2014.

Figure 2. The number of Metapopulation Cheetah in the Waterberg cluster for the period January 2004 to July 2014.
There is potential for Metapopulation expansion in the Waterberg 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 13.

Include map of Waterberg reserves

Origin of Waterberg Cheetahs
Almost one quarter of Waterberg Cheetah were born in the Eastern Cape (July 2014). Many of these Cheetah were brought in to stabilise the Waterberg population soon after the launch of the Metapopulation project. An encouraging sign has been the movement of free roaming Cheetah onto Waterberg reserves. More than half of Waterberg reserves are located within the current range of free roaming Cheetah. When free roaming Cheetah move onto Metapopulation reserves they bring in new genetics and reduce the need for extensive management.

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

Photograph of Waterberg Cheetah release

Prey and habitat preference
Questionnaire data obtained from reserve managers suggests that the main three prey items utilised by Waterberg Cheetah are Impala (Aepyceros melampus), Wildebeest yearlings (Connochaetes taurinus) and Zebra foals (Equus burchellii). Less frequently reported prey items include Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), Ostrich (Struthio camelus), Common Reedbuck (Redunca arundinum) and Blesbok (Damaliscus dorcus). Where Ostrich, Bushbuck and Common Reedbuck are regularly taken where they are abundant. The use of fence lines to corner prey whilst hunting has been reported in two Waterberg reserves.
Questionnaire data obtained from reserve managers suggest that Cheetahs prefer thicker vegetation and mountainous habitat in reserves where other large predators are prevalent. Even when other predators are absent, Cheetah are frequently observed in thicker vegetation. More open habitat is preferred for hunting.

Management issues in the Waterberg cluster
Cheetahs have reportedly escaped from Waterberg reserves on 24 occasions. Only one reserve in the region has not reported problems with Cheetahs moving through reserves boundaries. In most cases recapture took place within a day and the problem was solved by repairing fences. In some cases fences had to be heightened to the prescribed height of 2.4m or an electrical trip wire strand was added on the inside of the fence. Cheetahs are recaptured by dragging kills made outside the reserves back in or by appointing vets to dart escapees.

Numerous reserves in the Waterberg cluster have requested permission from local conservation authorities to remove free roaming cheetah from commercial farmland in the Waterberg region. Reserves claim that these cheetah are being heavily persecuted by farmers and would be safer in fenced reserves. The Metapopulation Project does not encourage the removal of free roaming cheetah for reintroduction into Metapopulations reserves. It is estimated that more than 30% of South Africa’s wild Cheetah are free roaming animals that occur outside of protected areas. This population is important from a cheetah conservation perspective. It was heavily impacted by the removal of 157 cheetah for reintroduction into small reserves between 1999 and 2009. Research carried out in the Waterberg indicates that persecution or relocations are not a long-term solution to human-wildlife conflict (Thorn et al. 2013). Farmer-cheetah conflict can be partially solved by the use of livestock guarding dogs (LGD). For more information on guard dogs please visit http://www.ewt.org.za/CCP/guardingdogs.html.