Dr. Elena V. Chelysheva (PhD) is Project Founder and Principal Investigator of Mara-Meru Cheetah Project
Q and A about why we MUST be clear about Cheetahs
Can you explain briefly why we need to save cheetah
Cheetah as a species survived a genetic bottleneck approximately 12,000 years ago, when only a few thousands individuals were left in the world. Cheetah recovered in numbers, and in the beginning of 20th Century there were around 100,000 animals in Africa and Asia. Growth of human population, its activities and expanding their territories led to the drastically declining of cheetahs in the wild. Today the known cheetah population is only 6,700 (IUCN Red List, 2015) and estimated to be not more than 10,000! Such a rate of declining could lead to the total extinction of the species in the next 50 years. Saving the cheetah for posterity – is protecting its environment by working with local communities, stakeholders and authorities, as well as with international organizations and people.
When the big crash in numbers happen?
There were several crushes in wildlife numbers. The global climate changes took place at different times leading to a periodicextinction of countless species. By the beginning of the Pliocene (about 5 million years ago) in Europe, 13% of families of terrestrial mammals has disappeared. At that time, the order Carnivora lost 12 of the hyena species and 6 species of felines. During the last 1.6 million years, in the northern hemisphere at least 4 times glaciers moved from low to high latitudes causing massive extinction of animals. It is known, that 20 000 years ago, ancient cheetahs were widely spread throughout the world inhabiting the vast areas ofAfrica, Asia, Europe, India and even North America. The last glaciation of the northern hemisphere at the end of the Pleistocene(about 10 000-12 000 years ago), the Earth’s climate has changed dramatically, which resulted in the disappearance of various animal species. In North America, Europe and Asia 75% of species vanished and among them, saber-toothed cats, lion and American Miracinonyx – the ancestor of a modern cheetah and puma. At the end of the glaciation, cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) disappeared from East Asia. Only small number of cheetahs survive that are the ancestors of all the currently existing cheetahs. The species has passed through the so-called genetic “bottleneck”, which resulted in inbreeding. However, cheetah population has recovered and now three subspecies have been genetically confirmed, out of which two subspecies are found in Africa (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus andAcinonyx jubatus soemmeringii) and one in Asia (A.j. venaticus), which is the last Asiatic cheetah which survived in Iran in a very low numbers (about 120 animals).
What NOT to do when one sees/hears cheetah
While observing animals in the wild it is very important to remember that we all are guests in their world and have to respect the privacy of with animals. Therefore:
- Do not shout, accelerate the engine or make any noise trying to wake up a cheetah or attract its attention; keep silence, talk quietly
- Do not surround cheetahs – they need to look for potential danger
- Do not use flash while taking photos, it may effect their vision and in the evening can attract other predators (lions, hyenas) to the spot, which may become fatal to a cheetah
- Do not drive fast and straight to a cheetah; approach at a low speed making a hemi-circle at a distance allowing a cheetah to orientate and observe approaching
- Do not approach closer than 25 m to a cheetah, animals need a space to look around
- Do not drive towards a cheetah/cheetahs walking towards your car, because it might encourage them climbing a car; drive away
- Do not let cheetahs climbing on/in your vehicle; if you see it approaching start the engine or drive several meters away
- Do not come out of the vehicle near a cheetah, you can scary it away and by that it might become spotted by other predators
- Do not pick up or touch any cheetah adult or cubs – mother can abandon a cub, adult/subadult can hurt itself or you/your neighbor
- Do not feed any cheetah even if you feel it is hungry; if you see injured or weak cheetah, please report to the park authorities (contact detail are on the posters at all gates and airstrips)
- Do not play with cheetahs – using any objects, do not encourage them coming to you; cheetahs used not to fear people once might get hurt or killed by humans
- Do not litter anywhere – animals may hurt themselves or get sick/die after eating the garbage; if you see any garbage, especially broken glass, please collect it and remove it – there are places for litter at any tourist facility and gates
- Do not let other visitors break Park Rules
How can readers help research?
- Sharing photographic materials. We are building Mara cheetah Pedigree since 2000, and would appreciate any assistance. To date, out of 130 adult cheetahs identified since 2001, we know kinship (grandmothers/mothers/ littermates) and year of birth of 60%. You can help us by sending your original photos of cheetahs spotted in the Mara (reserve and conservancies) to profiles to: firstname.lastname@example.org. We are building Meru database and highly appreciate cheetah photos taken in Meru NP Kora NP and Bisanadi NR. You can send them to: email@example.com. We use photo materials for identification purpose only and do not give it to a third party. For the database we are looking for photos of a body profile (size over 1Mb) of all cheetahs at a spot. We require original photos because they contain the exact date when the cheetah was captured by camera. Pictures posted on facebook cannot be used for the personal cheetah records. As feedback, you will be provided with the known information about the cheetah you spotted.
- Sharing information on cheetah sightings while on safari in the Mara by contacting us on phone: +254 771 774 308
- Sharing stories on interesting encounters in Africa (large groups of cheetahs, interactions between cheetah and other predator etc.) by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Spread a word by following our updates on the Facebook and sharing posts with friends
- Making donations to our research by providing equipment or by direct donations. Even small contribution makes big difference to the Cheetah conservation
Our website: http://marameru.org/en