ABOUT CHEETAH CONSERVATION BOTSWANA
Cheetah Conservation Botswana aims to preserve the nation’s cheetah population through scientific research, community outreach and environmental education, working with rural communities to promote coexistence with Botswana’s rich diversity of carnivore species.
The Plight of the Cheetah
Evolving over 4 million years ago and able to employ breathtaking acceleration to achieve speeds of up to 110 km/h, the oldest of the African ‘big cats’ and the fastest land mammal on Earth is today engaged in a race against extinction.
Cheetahs are a marvel of evolution and physiology. Almost every element of a cheetah’s body has undergone evolutionary adaptations to enable them to run faster. From their enlarged nasal passages to improve oxygen intake, to their rudder-like tails that help them change direction at speed – cheetahs are a wonder of physicality and biological design. Despite such adaptations which endow them with amazing speed and agility such as acceleration faster than most sports cars and maneuverability seldom challenged within the animal kingdom, cheetahs’ specialized physiology limits their ability to compete with the more powerful carnivores (lion, leopard, spotted hyena) which are typically more numerous than cheetah in protected areas. To avoid competition, cheetahs have evolved to be diurnal and often have large home ranges requiring conservation planning across a range of land uses. Protected areas do not provide enough space to conserve adequate numbers of these animals. On marginal lands cheetahs can live with fewer competing carnivores; however, they are then jeopardized by regular conflict with rural communities.
Most rural communities in Botswana depend on livestock farming for their livelihoods. Although research studies consistently show that only a relatively smal portion of large carnivore diets consist of livestock (typically below about 7%), there is a common perception amongst farmers that carnivores have a significant negative impact on livestock farming, and this can lead to indiscriminate retaliatory killings. Human-wildlife conflict has had a devastating impact on species throughout the world and it is one of the main reasons for the loss of 90% of the world’s cheetah population (around 90,000 cats) in the course of just a single century. The estimated population of 10,000 wild cheetahs in Africa today is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ in the IUCN’s Red List of threatened species.
Now Africa’s most threatened ‘big cat’, cheetah populations are unable to sustain the on-going levels of indiscriminate removal, both retaliation and "preemptive" killings for livestock protection, and poaching for illegal trade. The cheetah is formally protected by law in Botswana and internationally by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) where cheetahs are listed on Appendix I (allowing only limitted and highly regulated international trade). Despite these restrictions, many cheetahs are still killed in retaliation for real or perceived livestock predation.
Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB)
Botswana hosts the world’s second largest population of cheetahs, behind Namibia, with an estimated population of around 2,000 individuals. This accounts for approximately 20% of the world’s remaining wild cheetahs. Due to Botswana's location in the centre of southern Africa, this population is also crucial to facilitate connectivity between the remaining populations of Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola.
Because of their wide-ranging natures, animals like the cheetah and the African wild dog need large areas to survive. As a result, protected areas cannot be solely relied upon maintain populations of these species, and the conservation of these animals requires concerted efforts in land use planning on a large scale, and conservation efforts in agricultural areas where conflict with farmers arises. The problems of habitat loss, population fragmentation and human encroachment on wild areas are bringing human-wildlife conflict into the forefront of conservation for many species, but it is particularly crucial to cheetah survival. These factors, in combination with the threat from poaching and declines in prey species availability, are the focus behind CCB's conservation strategy.