Tsavo Cheetah Project
Conserving the future of the cheetah
Kenya has been identified as one of the last remaining strongholds for the cheetah, making it an essential refuge for the future of the species. Researcher Cherie Schroff and her team are evaluating the population and conservation status of cheetahs in the greater Tsavo ecosystem and implementing long-term conservation solutions, in order to ensure their long-term survival.
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The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is listed as vulnerable on IUCN's Red List of threatened species. With a decline in numbers throughout the species’ rangelands, remaining wild population strongholds occur in southern and eastern (Tanzania and Kenya) Africa. In Kenya, the cheetah is listed as an endangered species under the Wildlife and Conservation Management Act, 2013. The Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA), along with the Maasai Mara ecosystem hold the largest and most viable cheetah populations in the country, which show strong potential for connectivity with Tanzania's cheetah populations.
Covering an area of 16,000 square miles (42,000 square kilometers) the Tsavo Ecosystem in south eastern Kenya, comprises the unfenced Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks and a diverse range of ethnic communities and tribes. Increasing human populations and demand for land and settlement is causing ever-closer interaction between humans and wildlife within the ecosystem, leading to conflict and livestock depredation. Since 2011, in cooperation with the Kenya Wildlife Service, the project has conducted conservation research beginning within the region of southern Tsavo East and connecting lands, eventually expanding to include ranchland and critical corridors. There are many misconceptions among local residents on the cheetah's behavior and ecology. Many people fear the cheetah, unaware of its non- aggressive nature. As a result, cases of unnecessary killings of this threatened cat continue to occur in the vicinity in locations where TCP has not yet focused efforts or where new residents have moved in. Local poaching in the study area for bush-meat includes cheetahs main prey species and has even caused cheetah deaths due to indiscriminate snaring. More recently, the impact of increasing development and infrastructure on the cheetah's survival around Tsavo, has been emphasized by the project and addressed in our activities.
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The aim of the project is to protect and conserve the Tsavo ecosystem cheetah population for the long-term survival of the species. We work with residents, stakeholders, ranch staff and land owners, in addition to governmental bodies to foster the coexistence with local residents and influence wildlife laws and policies. The Tsavo Cheetah Project has an established Memorandum of Understanding with the Taita-Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Association, for fieldwork liaisons in Tsavo's conservancies and ranches, and private agreements with land owners.
Directed by National Geographic Society Explorer, Cherie Schroff, MSc., focused areas of research and programs include:
- Identifying individuals in the population for ongoing monitoring, demographic studies, and mapping of their movements to investigate conservation requirements and connectivity.
- Cheetahs are photographed when sighted and individually identified by their unique spot and tail patterns. Photographs are stored in a photographic database of known individuals and groups.
- Monitoring is conducted through direct sightings and camera trap captures. Natural signs of the cheetah (e.g., spoor, scent marking trees) assists in tracking and locating individual cats, mothers and cubs, and male coalitions.
- Verifying claims of livestock predation and providing assisted solutions, and verifying threats to the cheetah.
- Examination of the corpse of the goat, sheep or cattle to identify the predator responsible for the attack based on evidence of bite and tear marks, coupled with case-specific advice and on-site assistance on preventive measures to reduce or eliminate attacks on livestock.
- Opportunistic camera trap captures of cheetah presence and behavior in areas where livestock depredation has occurred or has been reported.
- Camera trap captures of cheetahs near construction sites, infrastructure, fencing and railways.
- Engaging local residents in education: Cheetah oriented education programs aimed towards both school children and adults are invaluable in these surrounding communities.
- Lessons on the physical identification and behavioral differentiation of the cheetah and other local cat species and the tourism value of which they play in fostering a healthy ecosystem.
- Through the project's A Tsavo Cheetah's Ecosystem program, visits to local primary and secondary schools, providing age-appropriate talks and grade level interactive activities on the cheetah and its ecology.
- Collaborative programs with ranches and conservancies; through the provision of cameras with built in GPS ,training of rangers and herders on camera usage and data recording for cheetah and predator sighting submissions,, and capacity building opportunities through training on research methodology, education on cheetah ecology and the importance of the species in the Tsavo ecosystem.
- Cheetah Scouts informant program: a 'happened upon' initiative commencing in 2016, where local Maasai provide us with confidential information on cheetah sightings, human- carnivore conflict and wildlife crime, through their expansive networks in the region. This information is then provided to the Kenya Wildlife Service.