A new report will guide the way forward for Cheetah and African Wild Dog conservation in South Africa.
Carnivore conservationists will establish a biodiversity management plan for these species based on this report, for submission to the department of water and environmental affairs. If accepted and signed by the minister, it will become legislated, providing an enforceable means of achieving the plan's outlined objectives.
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) share similar biological traits and face similar threats. For this reason the decision was taken to coordinate their conservation. Both species are wide ranging and occur at naturally low densities, even in protected areas. Both are adversely affected by competition with other large predators, and both are declining in number, primarily due to persecution by humans.
The goal of this plan is therefore to improve the status of cheetah and wild dogs within their historical range in South Africa, and the objectives are to:
The Wildlife Conservation Society and Zoological Society of London are coordinating a continent-wide conservation planning process for cheetah and African wild dogs in Africa, under the auspices of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Cat and Canid Specialist Groups.
This has involved the convening of a number of regional conservation planning meetings, followed by national meetings. The southern African conservation action planning meeting was held in Jwaneng, Botswana in December 2007 and the Endangered Wildlife Trust then took the lead role in coordinating the South African national conservation action planning process.
The first step in this process was the convening of a Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA) workshop for cheetah to complement the PHVA conducted for Wild Dogs in 1997. During recent years, cheetah have been reintroduced into at least 37 small to medium sized fenced reserves, significantly increasing the numbers and geographic range of the species.
However, most of these reserves contain small populations, and without coordinated management, there is a risk that inbreeding will occur. The PHVA provided the tools to manage isolated reintroduced populations as a coordinated metapopulation, where subpopulations are linked by management interventions.
Following the PHVA, the National Conservation Action Planning meeting for cheetah and wild dogs was held in June 2009, in Bela Bela, Limpopo. Here stakeholders mapped out a comprehensive conservation strategy for cheetah and wild dogs in South Africa.
Another workshop was then held in September 2009 to discuss the way forward for cheetah conservation. At this workshop it was agreed that the EWT's Carnivore Conservation Group (EWT-CCG) would coordinate the process, while the EWT's IT 4 Conservation Group (EWT-IT4CG) is well placed to develop the baseline cheetah database.
This will contain information critical to ensuring demographic and genetic integrity of the cheetah population and avoiding over-population in small reserves. The next step is to gain buy-in from all landowners with cheetah on their property and to put together a management plan for the cheetah metapopulation.
The report that will form the basis for the Biodiversity Management Plan for Species has been finalised and is available at https://ewt.org.za. The Biodiversity Management Plan for Species will take another year to finalise. The national planning process was made possible by a grant to the EWT by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation's African Cheetah Initiative.