(1) - (4) © Action for Cheetahs in Kenya
To positively affect cheetah conservation and management protocols in Kenya
Since 1970, cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) distribution in Kenya has been reduced to 75% of its historical range, based on comparative analysis conducted in a national survey by Action for Cheetahs in Kenya (ACK) between 2004 and 2006. Throughout their range in Africa, cheetah populations are higher on public and private ranchland than in protected parks and sanctuaries. ACK research is focused on evaluation of Kenyan farmland ecosystems for long-term habitat viability for the cheetah. Camera trapping, scat analysis and habitat monitoring methods provide a multifaceted understanding of cheetah adaptations and enable focused conservation efforts. In support of the Kenya national cheetah strategy, ACK goals are to (1) identify factors affecting cheetah livestock predation and mitigate conflict; (2) understand cheetah habitat selection and mitigate resource competition; and (3) influence public and administrative changes to positively affect cheetah conservation and management protocols through capacity building and community involvement in conservation action. ACK studies test system population dynamics models and improve understanding of cheetahs in various land-use classifications.
Previous ACK studies show that behavioural and diet adaptations of the cheetah could account for their persistence in marginal and developing regions. Field officers from within the community are trained in wildlife monitoring, scat collection, public presentation and conflict mitigation. Analysis of game counts, camera trap data and faecal sample content uses digital images and prey hair identification to compare cheetah prey and habitat selection in different land-use categories. Cheetahs typically vary their diet, but when prey and habitat selection is limited, there is a critical threshold in which cheetahs can no longer survive in an area. Increased levels of faecal "stress" hormones (i.e. glucocorticoids) are an early warning of health and reproductive changes, and can provide us with indicators of management needs.
In 2013, CITES recognised the significance of illegal cub trade at the Conference of the Parties meeting, stating that studies should "aim to determine the source of cheetahs in illegal trade". Genetic studies in South Africa and Namibia show that marker-based forensic identification in cheetahs is feasible; therefore, we can identify the region of origin of confiscated cubs and cheetah parts. Development of genetic profiling through faecal studies will promote the new Kenya Wildlife Service forensic laboratory to make Kenya a pillar for carnivore conservation in East Africa. Of equal importance, molecular analysis can determine vital corridors for genetic exchange. Genetic profiling of scat samples will aid in understanding the corridors essential for genetic transfer between cheetah populations. According to the website of the Embassy of the Republic of Kenya in Washington, DC, "securing wildlife corridors and migratory routes" is a flagship project for the Environment, Water and Sanitation objectives. The use of a faecal detection dog and faecal analysis studies are both timely and necessary in an international and local cheetah conservation scope.
ACK project goals extend beyond research through community participation in conservation, school education activities and public awareness campaigns. Results from previous ACK interviews show that higher general education did not lead to higher tolerance for wildlife, but the level of exposure to conservation education materials and community information meetings resulted in positive attitudes towards living with predators. Effectiveness of education and awareness programmes are measured through pre- and post-surveys and through conservation actions within the community. ACK works with community self-help groups to encourage environmental responsibility in economic initiatives. These local organisations are a common method by which residents seek to improve their livelihoods and gain access to resources. Such groups empower residents to take ownership of the sustainable management of the savannah ecosystem, and to see the ecological and economic benefits of sustaining the wildlife populations.
WAZA Conservation Project 13011 is implemented by Mary Wykstra (Carnivores, Livelihoods and Landscapes), with support provided by Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Utah's Hogle Zoo, Columbus Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo, Binder Park Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Kansas City Zoo, Toledo Zoo and Oregon Zoo. Other stakeholders involved in the project include the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Kenya Wildlife Service, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, University of Nairobi and Samburu County Council.
> to project overview
(1) - (4) © Action for Cheetahs in Kenya