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Cheetah Management Plan

Executive Summary

Cheetah is listed as a threatened species and are put under continuous pressure through agriculture and human disturbance throughout Africa, particularly Southern Africa in particular. Few areas in South Africa remain to support wild populations and even fewer exist which can support genetically viable populations. Gondwana Game Reserve has the geology, fauna and flora to partake in a sustainable breeding program that can actively contribute to the conservation of this species. Gondwana offers the personal to undertake the predetermined methodology to successfully introduce cheetah onto the property. A Gondwana cheetah population will create the opportunity to participate in a much-needed genetic diversity program in the Western Cape and South Africa.

About the Cheetah

Rosevaar (1974) stated that the generic name Acinonyx is probably derived from the Greek akaina, a thorn, and onyx, a claw, referring to the foot with its unsheathed claws. The specific name jubatus is derived from the Latin, having a crest or mane, which refers to their nuchal crest of long hair. The genus is nonspecific, which means the genus contains only one known species. The name Cheetah is derived from the Hindu word ‘Chita’ which means ‘the spotted one’. The Cheetah is the exception in the cat family for, although the claws can be extended, they do not retract into sheaths and remain exposed.

What is their conservation status and why the need for concern?

The conservation status of cheetah in Africa is listed as threatened, however in some areas in South Africa and Namibia cheetah are still getting regularly removed by farmers with little knowledge of the genetic status of the species in the area. It took 4 million years of evolution for the cheetah to become the exceptional animal it is today and only 100 years for man to put it on the endangered list. At the turn of the 20th century an estimated 100, 000 cheetahs roamed throughout Africa, parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. Today there are just 7,500 cheetahs left in the wild and South Africa is home to fewer than 1,000 of these majestic cats.

Potential conservation on Gondwana Game Reserve

Gondwana offers 11 200 hectares (27 675 acres) of open country that provides perfect habitat and facilities for a sustainable cheetah project. Gondwana’s electrified perimeter fence (2,4 meters high) protects the species from the surrounding farms and creates a haven for animals within its boundaries. The reserve, removed from poaching or legal hunting provides the perfect area for these cheetah to have the natural freedom they require. Gondwana’s habitat consists of Fynbos, renosterveld, wide nutrient rich valleys covered in Acacia karoo thickets, alien dominated thickets and many previously cultivated lands creating thousands of hectares of suitable plains throughout the reserve. The ability to provide sufficient diet is mandatory, and the reserve supports key prey species for cheetah such as; Grey Rhebuck, Black wildebeest, Red hartebeest, Grey duiker, Scrub hare, Cape hare and many Springbuck that will be their main diet.

Behavior

Cheetahs are predominantly diurnal, with peaks of activity around sunrise and sunset. During the hottest hours of the day they lie up in the shade, choosing an elevated resting place from which a clear view of the surrounding terrain is obtained. Males are not territorial and may move over areas held by several females. They are terrestrial and ill adapted to climbing, but do make use of trees with stout sloping trunks or branches on which to rest or use for observation posts. Cheetahs chirrup when excited or when meeting members from their own group.

Social structure

Apart from the lion the cheetah is the only other cat in Africa that will form a group. These groups may consist of a female and her litter or a group of males from the same litter that might stay together for the rest of their lives. The density of cheetah varies and a large amount of females may clutter around a good food source. Nomadic males are usually in a weaker condition than males staying in one area. Vocalization and scent-marking are their ways of communication.

Reproduction

In the wild cheetahs are not restricted to breeding seasons and young are born at anytime of the year. The courtship of cheetahs is a subtle and complex process. In the wild, more often than not, this is the only time that the females associate with other adult cheetahs. Estrous seldom lasts more than two days. After a gestation of about 90-95 days the cubs are born in the shelter of tall grass or in underbrush and are hidden very cunningly. Litters number on average of four but can be as much as six. The cubs start to wean at about five or six weeks old, when the female allows them to tear at the carcass of her kill, which she may drag back to them. Cheetah are fully weaned at about 3 months old. Young females do not become sexually mature until they are 21-24 months old.

Gondwana Game Reserve’s purpose and priorities in cheetah rehabilitation

Gondwana’s main objective is to actively participate in a sustainable breeding program of free roaming Cheetah in the Western Cape. The initial priority is to establish a base population from which to initiate the project. The base/initial population have been identified and come from a credible breeding program within the Western Cape. This initial population will consist of two males (brother coalition) and a single female. The base population will grow to a sustainable number both environmentally and genetically and once carrying capacity has been reached at Gondwana, we will work to distribute wild populations to other suitable reserves within the Western Cape and other participating provinces and countries in Southern Africa.

If there are certain times during the project where there is reduced demand for new populations of free roaming cheetah and Gondwana has reached carrying capacity then forms of reversible contraception will be used. This contraception is non invasive and does not interfere with social structures or day-to-day routine.

Personnel involved in Cheetah program

Mark Rutherfoord

B.Sc. environmental science – university of the Witwatersand

  • Headed research program for spatial utilization of Zebra and Blesbok at Suikerbos Rand 1999-2002
  • Wildlife manager Tswalu Private Game Reserve 2002-2004 (largest private Game Reserve in SA)
  • Project leader for first introduction of wild dog back into the Kalahari on private land
  • Introduction/rehabilitation of cheetah caught on farming land onto private reserve
  • Introducing/rehabilitation of leopard caught on farming land onto private reserve
  • Breeding manager of 130 Roan antelope, 85 Buffalo and 150 Sable antelope in intensive breeding project
  • Established Tswalu’s lion population from a stagnant seven individual to two viable prides of 12 individuals each through interactive genetic swapping with National Parks in the Northern Province area

Albert Swart

B.Sc. Agric – Elsenburg

  • Field guide Kariega Game Reserve
  • Wildlife manager Gondwana Game reserve
  • Project development and management of Gondwana Conservation Trust
  • Lion management including chemical immobilization

Proposed introduction and monitoring methodology

  • Introduce initial population into custom designed predator boma
  • 6-12 week habituation program
  • Fit GPS collars
  • GPS reading set for 2-4 hour periods
  • Release onto property after habituation program
  • Plot home ranges through GPS data
  • Overlay home ranges onto vegetation analyses and general game distribution areas
  • Compare and analyze home ranges versus established lion population
  • Create daily log of predator prey conflict and kill diary
  • Maintain genetic log book

Genetic Diversity

One of the main concerns in the long-term viability of cheetah conservation within Africa is their limited genetic diversity. Gondwana’s primary goal is not to carry excessive amounts of cheetah on the reserve, but rather to create a sustainable population that can be used to contribute in the efforts to deepen their genetic pool.

Programs will be established with other existing cheetah projects to swap individuals and help create new areas and projects to further conserve of cheetah.

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