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  • Author: Sarah Czarnecki
  • Publication Date: March 01, 2022
  • Related Project: Tsavo Cheetah Project
  • Focus Species:

Cheetahs are threatened and their population is declining. The Tsavo Ecosystem is home to hundreds of these animals, making it one of the most vital cheetah habitats left in the world. That’s why researchers like Cherie Schroff focus on studying the animals that live there, understanding their interactions with humans, and work tirelessly to build a healthier relationship between humans and animals.

Conservation efforts like the Tsavo Cheetah Project can have a huge impact on a species’ long term survival. This project has been running since 2011, and last year was a great success. Here are some of the Project’s greatest highlights.

Identifying Individual Cheetahs Helped Keep Them Safe

They might all look alike at first glance, but cheetahs’ physical characteristics are as distinctive as ours. Their 3,000 spots are as unique as human fingerprints, so believe it or not, a clear photo of a cheetah is enough to identify the individual. That’s why using camera traps to photograph and monitor cheetahs is a great way to keep tabs on the population.

This year, 72 new photos were submitted to the project and 54 of them were clear enough to identify individuals, bringing the grand total of known live cheetahs in the region up to 127.

Besides monitoring individual animals, The Tsavo Cheetah Project documents cheetahs’ movements, monitors how they interact with each other, and uncovers what happens when the cheetahs encounter human spaces.

Investigating Retaliatory Killings

Sadly, cheetahs are often killed by ranchers and herders trying to protect their livestock. Sometimes the cheetahs have attacked their animals, and sometimes the cheetahs are killed preemptively. Keeping track of these so-called retaliatory killings and working on solutions with the ranchers helps reduce future cheetah deaths.

In 2021, informants working with the Tsavo Cheetah Project reported that there was a certain ranch that was known to have removed several cheetahs. The Project investigated, spoke with the Kenya Wildlife Service, and worked together to help the ranchers find a non-violent solution.

Helping Individuals in Need

Because individuals are being monitored, scientists can check cheetahs’ behavior and even their health. Last year, one cheetah contracted mange – a skin disease that can be devastating if left untreated. But because the Tsavo Cheetah Project was tracking this individual, the cat was successfully trapped, treated for the disease, and returned to the wild feeling much healthier.

Spotting Baby Cheetahs

This project helps keep track of the cheetah populations as a whole, and what better sign of success than healthy babies? In 2021, 8 adorable fluffy cubs were born! Generally speaking, wild cheetah cubs have a high mortality rate; over 70% don’t make it to adulthood. But when they are part of a conservation effort like the Tsavo Cheetah Project, this number is reduced and more cubs survive to live long and healthy lives.

Recruiting Cheetah Scouts Promoted Community Involvement

Cheetah Scouts are one of the Tsavo Cheetah Project’s greatest assets. The Scouts are hired “cheetah informants” – they report to the Project and the Kenya Wildlife Service whenever they spot a cheetah, observe human-wildlife conflict, or know about wildlife crime. It’s a great opportunity for local people to educate their friends, family, and neighbors about living peacefully alongside wild animals.

Spotting More Cheetahs

In 2021, local Maasai Cheetah Scouts identified 81 cheetahs. Through camera traps, reports, and talks with locals, the Scouts provided confidential information, which helped the Project understand public cheetah sentiment and the animals’ movements.

Clearing up Conflict

Did you know scientists can look at predated livestock and determine which kind of animal killed it? Sometimes cheetah sightings or reported attacks were actually leopards, so the Project helps support leopard and lion populations, too.

When the Cheetah Scouts alert the Project to attacks, retaliatory killings, remains, and sightings, the Tsavo Cheetah Project and the Kenya Wildlife Service step in to find a solution. These groups work with law enforcement to crack down on illegal poaching and unlawful killing to help support the species.

Educational Projects Reached Thousands of People

One of The Tsavo Cheetah Project’s primary goals is education. By helping locals love cheetahs, encouraging tourism, and stirring up local involvement, more and more people learn to understand and respect their speedy, spotty neighbors. 

Learning to Live with Big Cats

Sometimes, livestock is killed by wild animals. This happens everywhere in the world where livestock is allowed to roam in and around carnivore habitats. That’s why the Tsavo Cheetah Project distributes plenty of information about keeping domestic animals safe from predators. Ranchers who take this information to heart report less livestock loss and haven’t had the need to kill cheetahs or leopards living in the area.

Many people don’t realize that cheetahs are among the least aggressive wild cat species, so retaliatory killings are completely unnecessary. Clearing up misconceptions about predators living in the area has made a huge difference over the years. Over 50 ranchers and herders have learned how to live peacefully alongside predators while protecting their livestock.

Classroom Involvement

Besides speaking directly with ranchers, the Tsavo Cheetah Project holds lessons in schools with the A Tsavo Cheetah’s Ecosystem learning program. 

The Project visits classes in 15 primary schools around Tsavo parks to teach kids about cheetahs and their habitats. There are plenty of fun lessons and activities to get the kids involved while building an admiration for these beautiful animals. Over 5,000 schoolchildren have learned to love cheetahs!

Reverse Population Decline

During the covid-19 lockdown in Kenya, predators like cheetahs were less directly threatened and had a greater presence in and around human areas. This meant the cheetahs threatened livestock more than usual, and there was expected to be a rise in retaliatory cheetah killings. But because the program concentrated on education and non-violent predator defense, the opposite happened. The expected drop in cheetah populations never happened thanks to the Tsavo Cheetah Project!

What’s Next for the Tsavo Cheetah Project?

Right now, the Tsavo Cheetah Project is running a fundraising campaign to add more camera traps and other monitoring equipment to the region. You can pledge to the Project or see their latest goals, images, videos, and updates at experiment.com.

Return to the Classroom

Even though we’re in the middle of the pandemic, there are still A Tsavo Cheetah’s Ecosystem lessons being taught to school children. The number of lessons has been cut down because of covid, but the plan is to resume all in-person programs in 2022.

Watch Out for Railways

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is great for African infrastructure and travel, but it cuts through part of Tsavo West. Animals aren’t used to navigating railways, and cheetahs often cross the tracks, which can be very dangerous. The Tsavo Cheetah Project and the Kenya Wildlife Service watch how animals move across this area and are working to predict their behavior, ultimately mitigating the dangers presented by the tracks.

Boost the Local Economy

Most tourists come to Tsavo to see wild animals – especially big cats like lions, leopards, and of course, cheetahs. Protecting these animals helps support the local economy through tourism dollars. The Tsavo Cheetah Project posts pictures, videos, articles, and social media to help boost interest in protecting and viewing these majestic animals. 

Protect Tsavo’s Cheetah Populations

As always, the Tsavo Cheetah Project works hard to help cheetahs thrive. 

The key to successful conservation projects like this one is inclusion. Including the local population in the study – through educational programs, government cooperation, and scouting initiatives – helps build a local base of cheetah conservationists. Volunteers, tourists, researchers, and donors like you help Tsavo’s cheetahs flourish.

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