Effective Land Use Management Can Help Cheetah and Wild Dog

There are less than 500 wild dogs, Lycaon pictus, in South Africa, with the only viable contiguous population roaming the Kruger National Park (KNP). The numbers in the Park are declining however, with census results showing numbers down from 434 in 1995 to 166-191 in 2009.

The total global cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, population is 7 500. The KNP's cheetah population of around 450 is the largest protected population.

These species move freely into the areas adjacent to the KNP where the fences have been dropped on the western and southern borders of the Park.

A team of researchers from the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) investigated the factors that influenced population dynamics and dispersal habits of the wild dogs and cheetahs in the Greater Kruger Area.

This included gathering information about people's perception about and tolerance for these species, as well as threats that the animals may be facing.

The research was conducted within a 35 kilometer buffer zone along the south and south western border of Kruger as far north as Phalaborwa. The study area covered about 6200km2 and included private land comprising private nature reserves, wildlife ranches, wildlife estates, lodges and crop farms.

Researchers Jessica Watermeyer and Grant Beverley surveyed existing land use practices to determine the distribution of wild where management practices, landowner attitudes and threats may differ.

They used questionnaires to gather information about the sizes of the properties, fences, prey numbers and species, other predators, disease such as rabies and owners' knowledge of and attitudes towards the cheetah and wild dog.

Photographs and sightings data, including date, time and GPS coordinates, from the last 10 years were collected from the land owners and compared to an extensive individual identification database developed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) for the KNP photographic surveys.

These were then analysed against the profiles of the 2009 Kruger Wild Dog and Cheetah Census.

"This enabled us to identify new dogs and packs and add them to the database; it also allowed us to assemble information on pack formations and dispersal patterns."

Data were collected from 8 458 photographs and 441 sightings.

The team found that wild dogs and cheetahs from Kruger use the areas adjacent to the Park, making the management of these areas important for the future viability of both species.

The animals prefer the western areas, rather than the southern parts, which, according to the researchers could be because these areas are used for eco-activities and the southern parts for crop farming.

Most landowners appreciated the conservation status of cheetahs and wild dogs, however not all owners were equally tolerant when asked if the animals should be protected on their personal properties. "However, eco-tourism ventures, which made up the largest proportion of respondents surveyed, were the most positive towards wild dogs and cheetahs.

These conservation and tourism oriented areas benefit from the presence of both species and many of the reserves have recently dropped fences to increase available habitat and promote the conservation of wide ranging animals such as Cheetahs and Wild Dogs."

"One of the common reasons for respondents' negative responses towards wild dogs and cheetahs were typically due to concerns regarding the safety of labourers and residents in wildlife estates, and, understandably, from respondents breeding rare game species." The team believes appropriate land management can help to alleviate conflict with cheetah and wild dogs by minimizing damage to prey species.

This can be done by the erection of predator-proof game breeding camps, the promotion of eco-tourism in conjunction with breeding of rare game and the collaboration and/or expansion of farms or formation of conservancies.

The Kruger National Park Wild Dog Project is a partnership with SANParks, Jaguar-Land Rover South Africa, Vaughan de la Harpe and Richard Bosman, supported by Global Supplies and Sabi Sand Wild Tuin. Follow the project on Twitter @KNPWildDogs, or Face Book: Grant Beverley.

By Lynette Strauss

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Kruger National Park - South African Safari