Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN (Durant, Marker et al. 2008). Currently, Kenya holds 1200-1400 cheetahs with over 75% residing on land outside of National Parks and Reserves. Cheetahs have been extirpated from 25% of their historic Kenyan range in the last 20 years (KWS 2010). Cheetahs are a wide ranging species with a home range as large as 3000 square kilometers. 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.Increased land subdivision and human settlement results in reduction of cheetah habitat and prey base, which, in turn, creates an increase in cheetah-human conflict and human-related cheetah mortality.
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.
ACK is focused in two regions (Salama and Samburu) that are identified as a high priority in the National Cheetah and Wild Dog Strategic Plan (IUCN/SSC 2007). Using these two sites, we pilot research and conflict mitigation methods for uses on a national scale. In 2014, we began working with the Wajir South constituency to initiate a conservancy. We completed the first National Cheetah Survey in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and East African Wildlife Society (EAWLS) in 2007 to provide baseling information on cheetahs on a national scale. We are currently piloting methods with the intention of starting a second range wide survey in 2016.
We began our work with an aim to identify areas for potential relocation of problem cheetahs into the Soysambu Conservancy on Delamere Estate in 2001. We quickly realized that there was much to learn about cheetah sustainability in Kenya and we began working in the Machakos region where problem cheetahs were threatened. These threats to cheetah survival hold the key to long term conservation in Kenya.
Action for Cheetahs in Kenya (ACK) has been focused on a cheetah population 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 led 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. Cheetah Field Officers collect the data, distribute the results and implement programmes in natural resource management and conflict mitigation. Results found annual livestock losses by cheetahs doubled from 2005 to 2008, and human-related mortality of 22 cheetahs (2005−09) threatens this population. The population of cheetahs between 2013 and 2014 is reduced to a maximum of five and a minimum of zero.
Extending our studies into the Athi-Kapiti region where between 14 and 25 cheetahs are regularly seen, we are further understanding the coping mechanisms of cheetahs when they are threatened by increased settlement.
In Samburu in northern Kenya little is known about the cheetah population. The Meibae Conservancy is pastoral rangeland (ca. 350km2) with community conservation under the Northern Rangeland Trust. 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 2009 using community Cheetah Field Officers. Information collected in Samburu follow the model of the Salama region with adaptations to the pastoral culture. Field officers work in five blocks covering over 2/3’s of the entire conservation area. Cheetah estimates range between 20 and 50 depending on the time of year and the weather conditions.
The Wajir District is the second largest in Kenya covering an area of 56,000 km2. Wajir County is 100% arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) with an average annual rainfall of 280 mm. Traditionally, the people of Wajir move to semi-permanent water points during the dry season, but scatter in search of grazing areas during the rains. During severe droughts, they would migrate to rivers in Garissa and Mandera Counties, or move over the border of Somalia to access the Juba River. The frequency of migration is determined by various factors including: drought, insecurity, size of household, alternative sources of income and size of livestock herds (Omosa 2005). During the wet season, livestock are taken to natural water sources (pans, ponds and seasonal rivers) that are accessed free of charge. But in modern times water is often obtained from boreholes where people pay for the water and must follow established rules and regulations, adding to interpersonal conflict situations. We estimated between 90 and 200 cheetahs to live in the entire district, but recent human conflict issues create greater hardships and decrease conservation of the land. Proposed research in this area will increase security through trained rangers and conservation planning.
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.
NATIONAL SURVEY USING DETECTION DOGS
ACK will conduct a national survey of cheetah presence over 2-3 years (2-16-2018) in collaboration with KWS. Scat detection dogs will identify samples that will be used to determine which populations breed with each other and where conservation efforts can prevent population isolation. Increasing human settlement and land-use changes are recognized as the leading threat to cheetah population stability.
This is the first study in Kenya to use scat analysis as a non- invasive tool for cheetah conservation efforts. To be able to conserve and save the declining cheetah population, we must understand cheetah’s habitats, prey preference, and health through hormone and disease analysis. Action for Cheetahs in Kenya (ACK) will use a detection dog for cheetah scat collection and will work with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) for analysis. In comparison with other scat collection methods, a detection dog for scat collection is a better method as it is faster and more accurate.
A scat detection dog will identify and aid in collection of fresh cheetah fecal samples (scat) throughout Kenya during our national survey. Scat will be analyzed for studies in stress hormone, prey selection, and genetics. One result will be the creation of a map of genetic corridors and other indicators that will assist KWS in prioritizing vital areas to monitor and preserve stable cheetah populations.
Scat detection dogs will improve efficiency of future studies involving fecal material and individual identification from scats. The model will be used in mapping other predator populations and habitats using non-invasive techniques. Susan Kuria, DVM will lead the detection dog program by training detection dogs and Kenyan handlers to accompany a field team in the national survey Snare detection dogs will also be a part of the long-term program, to reduce poaching through early and efficient detection of traps set for bush-meat and illegal animal trade.. Master's and PhD students from the University of Nairobi will assist us in scat analysis at the new KWS forensic laboratory.
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