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Dr. Laurie Marker

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Cheetahs Without Borders

Posted: 07/02/2012 3:27 pm

Borders are lines on maps that separate countries and people. People usually need to have passports to travel from one country to another. We recognize that different countries have different cultures and customs. Borders are a part of our world, but wildlife doesn't recognize man's borders. Animals follow ancient migration patterns and seek suitable habitat that contains the right elements for their survival. This often puts them in conflict with people who inhabit the same land.

For many species, living within the borders of a protected park or game reserve like Serengeti National Park in Tanzania or Kruger National Park in South Africa can mean the difference between life and death. The hundreds of species that live within protected lands are photographed by tourists and protected by rangers. However, predators that stray off of protected lands -- which they do, leaves endangered and threatened animals vulnerable to humans, whose first priority is to protect their family and property.

For cheetahs, there really are no borders of protection. In Namibia, for example, as well as the remaining cheetah range countries, over 90% of cheetahs live outside of protected game reserves. In game reserves, cheetahs often lose their kill to larger and more aggressive predators -- which push cheetahs out of protected area and which is why the larger numbers of cheetahs are found living outside of protected lands.

On farmlands, cheetahs do not have to compete with other large predators, who often steal their kills when the cheetah is recovering from its burst of speed. Just like in protected areas, cheetahs don't see property lines on farms, but farmers and ranchers do, and for decades livestock farmers have trapped and killed cheetahs preemptively, to protect their livestock.

In 1900 there were 100,000 wild cheetahs in the world. By 1990 when I founded Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia, Africa, there were only 10,000 wild cheetahs. CCF was the first major conservation field project to be located outside of a protected area, so working with the people in all cheetah-range countries has been my priority. With a 90% reduction in cheetahs, I knew that educating livestock farmers about living side by side with cheetahs was the best chance for saving the world's fastest land animal.

Throughout Africa, wildlife shares the land with people and their livestock. The majority of these people are poor, subsistence farmers. Predators in pursuit of their natural prey are often perceived to be attacking livestock. CCF has trained over 2,000 farmers and over 300 international biologists and conservationists in our Future Farmers of Africa and Integrated Conservation Biology programs. The training includes livestock, wildlife and predator management methods that reduce conflict with cheetahs and other predators, grasslands management for sustainable livestock grazing, and conservation of some grassland for wildlife use.

Today, fragmented pockets of cheetah populations live in Algeria, Niger, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, South Sudan, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Iran is home to the last of the Asiatic cheetahs -- fewer than 100 wild cheetahs. Cheetahs have very large home ranges, and often cross borders looking for suitable habitat and natural prey bases.

Opening up large landscapes between countries, with less fencing and more grassland would allow cheetahs and other wildlife from different countries to connect, breed, and increase their numbers in the wild. CCF is working with all cheetah-range countries to protect their wild cheetahs and to increase their chances for survival in the future while developing programs that assist human livelihoods by mitigation conflict and helping economic models around natural resource management.

For more information about CCF, please visit our web site, www.cheetah.org

 

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