Farmers urged to take part in cheetah census

In a nationwide census of free-ranging cheetahs last year, 25 animals were recorded in two provinces. Farmers are asked to take part in the census.

The global population of free-ranging cheetahs is estimated at 6 900, with approximately 3 650 of them in Southern Africa.

This is according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which says about 70% of these cheetahs are found outside formal conservation areas.

Between 400 and 600 free-ranging cheetahs in South Africa are found outside conservation areas. However, this statistic is based on a small and localised census in the early 2000s.

Cyril Stannard, project coordinator of the Cheetah Outreach Trust, says the trust began working with Ashia Cheetah Conservation in 2022 to conduct a national census of free-ranging cheetahs. Both entities are non-governmental organisations.

Statistics about these animals must be kept up-to-date, and strategies for their conservation and the issues they cause must be developed. With the help of farmers in North West and Limpopo, the team recorded 25 cheetahs there last year.

Where are these cheetahs found?

Free-ranging cheetahs are found in the northern parts of the Northern Cape, North West and Limpopo, and they also cross South Africa’s borders with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

The area where they are found is about 19 million hectares, and it is in this area that the census is being conducted. Cheetahs’ habitats include savannas, open grasslands and dense bushveld. Generally, cheetahs are not found in dense coastal forest areas. The animals are dominated by other predators and are killed by leopards, spotted hyenas and lions, among others.

Data from satellite collars on free-ranging cheetahs show that females with cubs have home ranges of between 20 000 and 50 000 ha. Single females’ home ranges can be up to 1,1 million ha, and groups of males can have home ranges of up to 800 000 ha.

“It is therefore clear that cheetahs need large areas to survive, which is why sustainable populations are possible in very few conservation areas,” says Stannard.

Reasons for the census

According to Stannard, the reasons for the census are:

  • To improve communication between farmers, landowners and conservation organisations.
  • To scientifically research and document the distribution and numbers of the country’s free-ranging cheetah population.
  • To determine the impact of cheetahs on farms and develop strategies to address it.
  • To promote tolerance towards free-ranging cheetahs on farms in areas that are critically important for cheetahs.

The census is being conducted with the help of two doctoral students, one from Stellenbosch University and the other from the University of the Netherlands. The data is being collected through physical and online questionnaires, as well as by tracking the animals’ physical presence using camera traps.

“Very little scientific data is available on exactly how many free-ranging cheetahs occur in South Africa’s farming areas,” says Stannard.

“These cheetahs bear iconic value on their shoulders as they are still truly free-ranging and not relocated by anyone. They also represent a seriously endangered national and international population directly threatened by habitat loss, persecution by farmers and illegal trade.”

How to take part

Farmers in areas where cheetahs still occur are asked to take part in the census by completing this online questionnaire or by contacting the conservation officers of the Cheetah Outreach Trust and/or Ashia Cheetah Conservation.

Farmers who participate in the survey can win prizes sponsored by Toerbroers, Vermont Sales and Fowkes Bros.

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