Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) running the gauntlet: an evaluation of translocations into free-range environments in Namibia

Type Journal Article - PeerJ
Title Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) running the gauntlet: an evaluation of translocations into free-range environments in Namibia
Volume 3
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2015
Page numbers e1346
Following dramatic range and population declines, the cheetah is Africa’s most endangered large felid. In Namibia, private land managers still trap cheetahs but increasingly consider moving animals instead of killing them. Across Africa, managers have translocated perceived conflict carnivores for decades, but rarely evaluated their actions. We analyse the outcomes of 15 cheetah translocations (for 23 adults and 10 dependent offspring) into free-range environments in Namibia. We released cheetahs at an average distance of 419.6 km ± 216.1 km SD (range: 71–816 km) after captive periods ranging from 1–1,184 days (350.6 days ± 439.0 days SD). An individual’s ability to survive the first year predominantly determined the overall translocation success of 40%. Post-release conflict and homing had less impact on success. Cheetah survival was lowest in the first three months after release. Human persecution (50% of deaths) and spotted hyaenas (29% of deaths) had the highest effect on survival. The degree of habituation to humans acquired during captivity significantly influenced chances of survival. Cheetahs surviving the initial post-release period (∼90 days) often settled into ranges and females reproduced successfully. However, all individuals exhibited extensive movements, frequently roaming >4,000 km2 in the first six months after release (with a maximum of 19,743 km2 in 112 days), resulting in low release site fidelity. Soft release and larger recipient area size did not improve site fidelity. Based on these outcomes, we evaluated which unfenced conservation areas in Namibia could potentially receive cheetahs. We found that there are currently few public and/or private reserves large enough to contain the movement profiles we observed in this study. This suggests that most translocations will result in cheetahs re-entering farmlands where they face a high risk of persecution. In conclusion, translocations into unconfined areas can successfully conserve individual cheetahs. Due to high mortality and unpredictable outcomes, however, conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance of cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas in order to reduce the number of indiscriminately trapped animals.

Related studies