Projects & Research
Cheetah “Jane” was captured in the southeastern section of the Stanley ranch on 5 August 2009. A female cub was the first to enter the trap cage, but Jane stayed nearby and was subsequently captured when we moved a second trap alongside the one holding the cub. Her other cub stayed nearby and the family reunited immediately after the captured cheetahs were released. Two weeks after their release, Jane went into a second trap on the northern section of the Stanley Ranch and we were able to release her immediately. Jane and her cubs were in great condition on both trapping occasions.
Jane’s collar is a “Global Satilite to Mobile” (GSM) transmitter – it sent hourly data via text messaging for the four months that it was transmitting. The information included the gps point and the ambient temperature. From this data we can see that Jane traveled longer distances in the evening hours and shorter distances during times when the herders are out with their livestock. At one point, Jane was 500 meters from a goat wearing one of our test collars but the herder never saw the cheetahs. Jane and her cubs crossed the busy Mombasa Highway twice – once between 11PM and midnight and the return was at 1AM nearly three weeks later.
Jane has taught us some interesting things, such as the following:
- She crossed the main higway (Mombassa Highway) twice at night.
- She travels extensively in the night hours.
- Unlike most cheetahs, she appears to be less active during the day. This may be an adaptation to living in a developed area.
- She has moved into Masai pastoral lands in rugged terrain — outside of our study design area.
The following image shows Jane’s movements between 20 Aug and 1 September after she was released:
When Jane moved into the neighboring Maasailand south of the railway it became more difficult for us to monitor her. With each data download we hoped that she would return to the Salama study area, but on November 20 we received the final transmission. The Kilimanjaro Lion project searched the area not far from their northern-most study area but never received transmission from the collar. There have been occasional reports of the sighting of a collared cheetah from Maasailand, but Jane has not returned to the Salama area. We are not certain if the collar was damaged or if it failed – unless we retrieve the collar we may never know what caused the cease in transmission.
We have been able to learn a lot about cheetah movements from the short period of time that the collar was transmitting. Our previous collared cheetah, “Mom”, was wearing a standard transmitter that could only be monitored through radio telemetry tracking. Although we tracked her weekly for 2.5 years, there were occasional gaps in our ability to find Mom. We could not tell where she went during the weeks that we could not find her. With Jane, we know that she moved outside of the study area and she had a range in those four months of about 800 square kilometers. Mom’s tracking data gave her a home range of only 60 square kilometers. With Jane’s hourly data we could see the adaptation she made to human activity patterns – this night time movement occurred even when she was in the less densely settled areas in Maasailand.
We tried to get a visual confirmation of Mom on a monthly basis, so we were able to observe some of her behaviours. Because Jane moved out of our study area after only six weeks, we never had a visual of her after she entered the second trap. Mom was seen chasing livestock on only two occasions after she was collared – in both cases it was during the time that her cubs were reaching independence. Jane was in close proximity to grazing livestock on several occasions in the six weeks after she was collared, but she was never seen chasing livestock.
We are still in the process of analyzing the data from both of the Salama cheetahs. It has been our intention to collar three additional cheetahs in the area. However we have had difficulty in capture of the cheetahs due to the presence of other predators and the level of disturbance (people stealing the the bait we used to attract cheetahs!). We are currently taking a small step back from cheetah collaring while we work with camera traps and bait stations to identify better means of attracting the cheetahs without the level of disturbances we have had in previous attempts. (See information on cheetah camera trapping).
ACK conducts studies to evaluate cheetah habitats, human interactions and tolerance in areas that support cheetah populations on ranchlands and wildlife dispersal areas. This includes:
- Evaluation of demographics through tracking of resident cheetahs for long term monitoring of specific cheetah populations and trans-located animals;
- Cheetah health studies;
- Developing protocols and research programs to evaluate health and genetics.
We estimate Kenya’s cheetah population at about 1000 with a distribution as mapped below. The majority of Kenya’s cheetah populations are well connected. To prevent fragmentation the above studies are needed.
ACK’s various community projects have promoted an increased local tolerance towards predators. Yet, human and livestock immigration into wildlife habitat is intensifying. Regulating land development and implementation of human-cheetah conflict mitigation are indispensable in Kenya rangeland. We need to further understand prime cheetah habitat quality to manage cheetah range land and causal factors of cheetah predation behaviors.
We would like to thank Classic Escapes for the collar donation. We frequently give talks to tourists from zoos and conservation organizations traveling with Classic Escapes. In 2009, Classic Escapes donated funds to purchase a radio collar and they sponsored one of the Salama cheetah scouts. After hearing about the difficulty we are having in radio collaring, Stacy Fiorantinos – Classic Escape’s director – pledged her continued support for ACK work through sponsorship of two camera traps to assist us in non-invasive monitoring and in determining methods for future collaring procedures.
World cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) numbers (SALAMA: Action for Cheetahs in Kenya (ACK) has been focused on a cheetah population (ca. 25 cheetahs) existing in a human settlement, Salama (ca. 400km2) in southern Kenya. This population is facing local extinction due to land subdivision (47%) into 3000 plots that has lead to an increased human and livestock immigration and a reduction of available land and prey. Various research projects include: radio-tracking and cheetah monitoring, evaluation of human settlement and prey distribution, conflict verification, and general interviews. Results found increased annual livestock losses by cheetahs in double from 2005 to 2008, and human-related mortality of 22 cheetahs (2005−09) threatens this population.
In Samburu (pastoral rangeland, ca. 350km2), in northern Kenya little is known about the cheetah population. Decreased tolerance of predators has been noted by programmes in the region. The 2004 – 2007 National Cheetah Survey showed this area to have the highest abundance of cheetah tracks and sightings in the country (unpublished report). Studies were initiated in this area in 2008.
An increase in human density, thus decrease in land for our wildlife, has lead to the encroachment of human settlement into the natural habitat of wild animals. In the same way, drought and loss of prey base results in cheetahs sharing human settlement areas where they at times kill the people’s livestock for their own survival.
Since Kenya’s independence, land uses have changes from pastoral and large scale commercial farming to an ever increasing number of small-scale and subsistence farming. Initially the affected areas where the commercial ranches were changed from government or single land owner to that of a Group, Share Holder or Title Holder division. Group ranches often allow settlement or pastoral use combined with common land ownership. In some cases people will form groups and continue to manage land together or sell to individuals who may combine plots to form large portions of the land, only to result in a broken landscape.
This land taken by humans leaves no choice for the cheetah – they must adapt to the human development or move away. As much as the human wants to survive by wanting more land, and leaving little or none for the wild animals, the cheetahs also must have their grounds to survive as they too have families. As a result, when humans take more land people move nearer to the cheetahs, interfering with wild habitat.
Human Wildlife Conflict
High human population threaten cheetahs survival as cheetahs are forced to share land with people. Many times this leads to dangerous measures taken by the cheetah. The cheetah opts to prey on people’s livestock as they are readily available during the dry season. In Africa, particularly in Kenya, large wild carnivores have been at the forefront of human-wildlife conflict involving livestock. A multitude of factors can account for livestock losses. These include: predation, diseases, drought, birth defects, injury, poison, natural causes and theft. Predation receives the most publicity, both locally and nationally. Interviews have been conducted with ranchers who have lost livestock to these causes.
Some local people believe that cheetahs target the red and brown goats assuming they are gazelles. At first the villagers did not care that the cheetah is an endangered species as their losses were unacceptable. But thanks to the ACK team, the community receives education and information which has assisted many of these residents in improved livestock health and husbandry. In addition, they are provided with information that helped them to understand the value of having the cheetah in their area in regards to conservation. They understand that the cheetah needs to have food thus they as a community must avoid poaching of prey species. As long as poaching continues the problem of cheetah preying on the livestock will only worsen.
Ongoing use of community scouts and improved cheetah monitoring and conflict mitigation in community areas include:
- 80 Morning and Night driving game counts (Salama)
- 80 walking game counts (Salama)
- 61 conflicts were brought to the attention of our Salama field officers. 27 conflict interviews verified livestock lost to cheetah (6), Hyena (9), and wild dog (1) – eleven incidents were attended but there was not enough evidence to confirm the responsible predator. An additional 34 incidents were reported late or by neighbours thus verification of the loss could not be confirmed (cheetah (6), Hyena (16), jackal (2), wild dog (1), leopard (1), python (1), Unidentified (7));
- Walking transects set up in Samburu in September and conducted October through December with the ACK scout and Meibae ranger staff completing 54 transects 9data analysis still underway);
- The highway continues to be the largest threat to predators in the Salama area with six animals being killed by vehicles in 2010 (python (1), serval (3), hyena (1), and jackal (1). The roads in Samburu are also being improved, but the same ratio of losses is not reported.
- Traps set between February and July in Salama (180 trap days — 3 traps x 60 days) and Samburu (1 trap x 50 days) with no successful cheetah capture — all traps were removed from the field for repairs and storage in August until 2011;
- KWS granted permission for Dr. Moshin Likoniwalla to work with us for cheetah immobilizations with KWS veterinary staff and when KWS veterinary staff are unavailable – Moshin has offered to donate his time for the cheetah radio collaring project;
- Nataanywe’s collar was removed on 16 August. We last downloaded the collar in February 2010, but in March we were unable to get near enough to the signal because she was in the Koitigor hills. The last points stored in the collar occurred on 18 April – one week before we searched for the signal again. The collar failure occurred due to a crack in the epoxy surrounding the battery casing – water shorted the batteries.From the information in the collar we can see that Nataanywe frequently crosses the Ewaso River between Samburu and Buffalo Reserves. Most of the time her crossings occurred when there was water in the river – thus showing that cheetahs do swim. In between crossings Nattanywe visited the river about once a week, she also took water from the reservoir at the Sopa Lodge in the northern section of the Samburu Reserve.For nearly a month after the collar ceased transmitting the Ewaso River was at a record height – this was when the flooding occurred that devastated the reserves and lodges near the river. During that time Nataanywe remained high in the hills of Samburu. In July and August, after the collar stopped transmitting, she was seen in the Ngare Mara area of the Buffalo Reserve. Each time the cheetah team attempted to locate Nataanywe she would disappear, and without the transmitter working it was not possible for us to find her.I left for university in late August but reports of sightings continued. In September, Cosmas was not able to find her and there were no reported sightings… then in the end of October we received news that she was seen with four tiny cubs in Buffalo Springs Reserve. One month later we received reports that two of the cubs were missing and that there were lions near her at the time that the two cubs disappeared. Between November and May we were given regular reports of Nataanywe and her cubs from both Buffalo Springs and Samburu. Cosmas could not remove the collar at that time – if anything went wrong during immobilization we needed to know that the cubs could survive on their own.I returned to Kenya in June and we went to the reserves to confirm Nataanywe’s condition and determine the most suitable date for collar removal. We decided that the cubs would be nearly one year in August and that we would visit then to confirm a date when the cubs were capable of surviving yet before Nataanywe went into season and got pregnant again.On August 16 we found Nataanywe and her cubs. The cubs spent all of their time chasing dikdik – with Nataanywe quite happy to let them wander out of her sight. The KWS veterinary team was called in and we darted Nataanywe to remove the collar. Within a few hours of receiving the reversal of the immobilization drugs the family was together again. Reports in September and October confirm that the family remains together. In November, the rains and tall grasses have made it difficult for drivers to find the cheetahs. I would expect Nataanywe to leave the cubs soon to start a new family, but this time her movements will be a mystery to us again.