Research into cheetah distribution, their habit preference, prey preference, behaviour, genetics and diseases can help us to understand how cheetahs live in Botswana. Although our research has found that cheetahs don’t often prey on livestock, they come under retribution from farmers who feel a threat from them. CCB’s research team has been working hard to unlock the secrets as to how cheetahs are living in Botswana’s farmlands and how they behave in this human-dominated landscape. Much research has been conducted in protected areas where wildlife roams free and without persecution, however research on the farmlands where the real threat to their survival exists, is largely a mystery. By understanding the ways in which these populations are behaving we can unlock the potential solutions for the human-wildlife conflict conundrum. By finding out how cheetahs are hunting we can find solutions for farmers by helping them to protect their livestock from predation, leading to fewer cheetahs being killed by farmers.
Carnivore Population Studies
CCB is utilizing the expert skills of the Kalahari San Bushman trackers in monitoring carnivore populations in the Ghanzi farmlands. Although this is an area specified for commercial livestock farming, the Ghanzi District contains numerous carnivore species including cheetah, leopard, African wild dog and hyenas just to name a few. The combination of widespread farming and carnivore populations makes this area a hotspot for human-wildlife conflict. CCB’s research team is conducting a long-term study of identifying the movements and species interactions between all of the districts’ large carnivores. By understanding how these species are interacting, their regular movement patterns, behaviour and prey selection we can better facilitate interventions for farmers that struggle with carnivore problems. The research team undertakes 2 weeks of systematic tracking of spoor (footprints) on game and cattle farms in the Ghanzi District every 3 months. So far this research has yielded some interesting information such as the preference for cheetahs to live on game farms where there is an abundance of their natural prey, a preference for eating kudu, and the tendency to avoid areas where leopards and spotted hyenas are moving.
CCB also continues to team up with the Central Kalahari Game Reserve Research team on a collaborative carnivore population study in Botswana’s largest reserves – The Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Cheetah numbers have been thought to be low where larger carnivores dominate, and these studies reinstate that fact, with large numbers of lions, leopards and hyena being found, but only very few signs of cheetah. These surveys have reinforced the idea that conservation of cheetahs on farmlands is the key to securing a future for cheetahs in Southern Africa.
Motion Camera Study
In addition, CCB is continuing with ongoing studies using motion-triggered cameras looking at cheetah populations on farmlands, their preferences between game and cattle farms, their behaviours at cheetah marking trees and their use of artificial water points on farms. All this information helps farmers to manage their livestock and game to avoid stock predation, decreasing levels of conflict and subsequently retaliation killings.
By analyzing hairs found in the scat of cheetahs, we can distinguish what they have been eating. The diet analysis that we can conduct from the scats found at the cheetah marking trees is incredibly useful. By looking at the cheetah diets we can know which wild species of game to conserve to encourage cheetah survival on livestock farms while minimizing predation on livestock. Diet research is also valuable in demonstrating to farmers that not every cheetah is a livestock killer. After many hundreds of scat samples, CCB’s research team has found that the proportion of livestock in these cheetahs’ diets was below 5%.
In May 2012, CCB teamed up with National Geographic to use new technology of National Geographic’s “Crittercam” to study wild cheetahs for the first time in history to see what their daily lives entail. The Cheetah Crittercam project has given a new insight into cheetah behaviour in heavily bush encroached farmlands, using this groundbreaking technology. It is very hard to observe cheetah in scrubland, so it is necessary to use a device such as the Crittercam to understand how they live in this environment. Because most of the world’s remaining population of cheetahs live in bush encroached farmlands like those in the Ghanzi District (where this project was initiated), discoveries about how they are surviving in these environments could be key to ensuring the survival of other populations of cheetahs around the world. CCB’s Research team worked with Kyler Abernathy and Greg Marshall from National Geographic to capture, collar and release 4 cheetahs with the Crittercam units mounted on specially designed collars. Footage retrieved from the drop-off collars have shown us how cheetahs have to search for surface water in the dry Kalahari and showed them feeding on free ranging kudu, their top choice of prey in that area. This initial pilot project was extremely successful, allowing us to record some amazing and interesting footage. National Geographic will make some improvements to the collars before returning to Botswana sometime in 2014 for a larger deployment of collars. A new partnership between CCB and the Royal Veterinary Collage in London will see them joining the Crittercam team in Botswana to also place advanced, low-power GPS/motion detection collars on cheetahs from the Ghanzi District. The combination of video, GPS and advanced fine-scale motion detection collars will yield fascinating information about cheetah behaviour including how fast they run, how successful their hunts are, how they are hunting in the thick bush, home range sizes and what they are primarily eating, just to name a few.