Decline of the Cheetah

Cheetah mother and cub

The fastest land animal is losing its most important race. The race for survival. We look at using Ecotourism to help combat the problem.

At present there are approximately only 6, 600 cheetah adults remaining in the wild and sadly only 5% of cubs make it to adulthood. Zimbabwe over the last 16 years has recorded a decline of 85%. To further put the cheetah status in perspective, the Serengeti National Park safeguards a population of almost 3000 lions which is almost half of the global cheetah population.

Here we list the main reasons for this sad truth and how you can help by choosing to safari responsibly.

Habitat Loss
The primary reason for the cheetah’s decline is a shrinking range due to habitat loss throughout Africa. Drastic increases in human population and a rapid rise of domestic animals has led to loss of habitat, prey and increasing conflict with man. As human populations grow and expand, agriculture, roads, and settlements destroy the open grasslands that cheetahs prefer.

Competition for prey and human conflict
Because it is low in the predator hierarchy, the cheetah faces competition from other predators and does not do well in parks and reserves with large lion and hyena populations. As a result, more cheetahs live outside protected areas where they come into conflict with farmers. Cheetahs tend to encounter conflict with farmers when loss of their natural prey leads them to attack livestock resulting in farmers killing them in retaliation. The difficulty is that communities that share their land with cheetah may also face a daily challenge to feed themselves and their families. They cannot afford the cost of losing their livestock to cheetah, even if it is such a relatively rare event.

Photo credit to Ulrike Zander

Illegal Trade
Live cheetahs are caught and traded illegally to the pet trade and are also hunted for their skin. The East African region is where illegal trade in live cheetahs is most likely to have the greatest negative impact on wild populations.

What is being done to help?
Conservationists have been working to lessen the decline of the cheetah in some areas. For instance, CCF (Cheetah Conservation Fund) began educating livestock farmers around Namibia in the early 1990s about how to prevent cheetahs from preying on their livestock without resorting to the rifle. Because of these education efforts, along with stronger enforcement of endangered species and anti-poaching laws, cheetah populations in that country stabilized.

CCF is the world’s leading organization dedicated to saving the cheetah in the wild. Founded by Dr. Laurie Marker in 1990, CCF has created a set of integrated programs that together address the threats both to the cheetah and its entire ecosystem, including human populations. CCF operates from the principal that only by securing the future of the communities that live alongside the cheetah can you secure a future for the cheetah. Helping people helps cheetahs.

Photo credit to Stephen Smith

Additionally (and thankfully) there is now a greater shift towards Ecotourism in the tourism industry with more and more hotels and lodges being aware of their impact on local communities, nature and wildlife around them and in response, making concerted efforts to not only minimize their footprint but also to give back and improve the circumstances around them.

“Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy, study and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features – both past and present), that promotes conservation, has low visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populationsSustaining Tourism

How can you help? Place ecotourism at the forefront of your mind.
If you are looking to do your bit to help you can of course donate or volunteer to such causes as CCF. However, you can also ensure that when you choose to go on safari you do so responsibly and seek ecotourist lodges that adhere to best practice, contribute to conservation efforts financially as well as practically, are members of the relevant conservation bodies, give back to their local communities and above all respect wildlife and nature in every way.

Here are a few of the most responsible safari lodges around that promote and practice ecotourism. We have also highlighted those which currently have a good cheetah population so you can ensure a good chance of seeing these precious creatures safe in the knowledge that the money you spend will also go towards protecting and nurturing them:

1. Garonga Safari Camp, South Africa
Set within the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve (west of the Kruger National Park) South Africa, this luxury lodge not only enjoys regular cheetah sightings and contributes to their protection through united conservation efforts, but it also has solar panels which generates 30% of their total energy, integrated heater pumps which only heat water when taps are turned on, a bio-gas system providing gas for the staff village to cook with, a water treatment system making use of grey water for the animal waterhole and its own vegetable garden.

Photo credit to Stephen Smith

2. Robin Pope Safaris – Mkulumadzi Lodge, Malawi
This lodge in Malawi is fully solar powered (with a back-up generator for those cloudy days). The chalets are designed with their carbon footprint in mind boasting sloped vegetated roofs that are covered with indigenous plant species such as succulents, aloes, shrubs and grasses. This minimises their impact on the environment and keeps guests cool in the hot season.

3. Under One Botswana Sky – Moremi Crossing, Botswana
Moremi Crossing is a 16-tent camp built on a palm fringed island in the Okavango Delta. This is a 100% eco-friendly development and features the latest in solar and waste disposal technology.

4. Singita Pamushana – Zimbabwe
This lodge helps to foster the sustainability of the wildlife and broader ecology within the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve.

5. Inverdoorn Safari Lodge and Cheetah Conservation Centre, South Africa
As a conservation stronghold, Inverdoorn strives to save threatened species and return animals to their natural habitat. This is evident from the rescue stories of animals that now roam free on the reserve.