The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is listed as vulnerable on IUCN's Red List of threatened species. With a decline in numbers throughout the species’ rangelands, remaining wild population strongholds occur in southern and eastern (Tanzania and Kenya) Africa. The last scientific cheetah population assessment for the Tsavo region was in 1990, when Paule Gros estimated cheetah numbers in and surrounding Kenya’s protected areas. At a total estimate of 793 cheetahs, 55% was based in Tsavo (Gros 1998). More recently, the Tsavo Ecosystem has been concluded as a priority focal area for cheetah research and conservation, in the recent national plan for the species (National Conservation and Management Strategy for Cheetah and Wild dog 2010).
Covering an area of 16,000 square miles (42,000 square kilometres) the Tsavo Ecosystem in south eastern Kenya, comprises the unfenced Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks and a diverse range of ethnic communities and tribes. Increasing human populations and demand for land and settlement is causing ever-closer interaction between humans and wildlife within the ecosystem, leading to conflict and livestock depredation. Since 2011, in cooperation with the Kenya Wildlife Service, the project has conducted research into the conservation and population status of the cheetah, beginning within the region of southern Tsavo East. There are many misconceptions among local residents on the cheetah's behavior and ecology. Many people fear the cheetah, unaware of its non- aggressive nature. As a result, reports of unnecessary killings of this threatened cat continue to occur in the vicinity, even within the park’s boundaries by encroaching pastoralists. Local poaching in the study area for bush-meat includes cheetahs main prey species and has even caused cheetah deaths due to indiscriminate snaring.
The aim of the project is to protect and conserve the Tsavo ecosystem cheetah population for the long-term survival of the species. We work with stakeholders and communities in addition to governmental bodies to foster the coexistence with local residents and influence wildlife laws and policies.
Focused areas of research and programs:
- Identifying individuals in the population for ongoing monitoring and demographic studies:
a. Cheetahs are photographed when sighted and individually identified by their unique spot and tail patterns. Photographs are stored in a photographic database of known individuals and groups.
b. Monitoring is conducted through direct sightings and camera trap captures. Natural signs of the cheetah (i.e., spoor) assist in tracking and locating individual cats, mothers and cubs, and male coalitions.
- Verifying claims of predation and providing assisted solutions:
a. Examination of the corpse of the goat, sheep or cattle to identify the predator responsible for the attack based on evidence of bite and tear marks, coupled with case-specific advice and on-site assistance on preventive measures to reduce or eliminate attacks on livestock.
b. Opportunistic camera trap captures of cheetah presence and behavior in areas where livestock depredation has occurred or has been reported; Camera trap captures of livestock within the national park.
- Engaging local residents in education: Cheetah oriented education programs aimed towards both school children and adults are invaluable in these surrounding communities.
a. Lessons on the physical identification and behavioral differentiation of the cheetah and other local cat species and the tourism value of which they play in fostering a healthy ecosystem.
b. Visits to local primary and secondary schools, providing age appropriate talks and grade level interactive activities on the cheetah and its ecology.
Visit the Tsavo Cheetah Project Website for regular news updates and more.