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Botswana Cat News Special Issue 3 - Cheetah Conservation Botswana Southern Africa

Botswana Cat News Special Issue 3 – Cheetah Conservation Botswana Southern Africa

Historically, cheetah Acinonyx jubatus have been distributed throughout Botswana. With once pristine habitat, very low human populations and one of the largest concentrations of ungulates on the continent, space and prey was plentiful. However, the last 40 years have seen great changes in the natural habitat, with overstocking of livestock, range partitioning, the arrival of deep borehole technology and the erection of cordon fences causing dramatic reductions in wildlife populations and the overall integrity of the Kalahari ecosystems. This report assesses current national cheetah status and distribution, detailing the factors presently affecting these populations.

Little historical data is available on cheetahs’ status nationally. In 1975, Myers, estimated Botswana’s cheetah population at 1000-2000. The cheetah was considered to be sparsely distributed. Two-thirds of the country was considered to be suitable habitat, the semi arid Kalahari ecosystem in the South and West (700 cheetah), and the well watered savannah of the Okavango Delta in the North West, which supports higher prey populations (800 cheetah). The remaining third of the country in the East, being semi arid and over utilised was assumed to have very low cheetah densities (500 cheetah). There was great concern over the extensive veld deterioration due to a lack of management of the national herd of 1.5million cattle. Habitat degradation was resulting in declines in perennial grassland, an increase in scrub savannah, lowered water tables and disappearance of wildlife (Myers 1975). These concerns remain today and the need for habitat conservation in Botswana has never been greater.

Background of current estimates Very little focused research has been carried out on cheetah in Botswana. However, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) carried out spoor surveys of predators in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) as part of a ground monitoring program of wildlife in the Kalahari ecosystem, between 1996-1999. The methods  developed by Stander (1998) in Namibia were utilised. Data collected along defined road transects of known length was used to provide an index of abundance. Later, this data was analysed using the spoor frequency/predator density calibration factors determined by Funston (2001). His study in the Kgalagadi Gemsbok Transfrontier Park (KGTP) provided estimates for dune and tree savannah habitats in the region. The analysis yielded the result of 112 cheetahs in the CKGR at a density of 0.25-0.26 cheetah/100 km2. (DWNP 2000). The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Lion Project was carried out during 1998-2001. Although the focus was on lions, all predator spoor were recorded and analysed to provide density estimates for use in the region. 204 cheetah were estimated to inhabit the KTP at a density of 0.57 cheetah/100 km2 (Funston 2001).

This data was then utilised for Botswana’s draft predator management strategy. This was compiled in 2001 and provided the accepted estimates for cheetah based on the current knowledge.

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