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GVI Karongwe hosts important meeting on cheetahs in the Lowveld

By Rosie Miles, Base Manager 3 years ago
Categories Limpopo and KZN

This week was the annual meeting of the members of the Lowveld Cheetah Metapopulation Group organised by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), and we were lucky enough to be the ones to host it this time.

Cheetah had been largely removed from the majority of South Africa until recently when they were re-introduced to over 40 game reserves. There are now approximately 300 cheetah existing on these small reserves throughout the country, however due to the small size of these reserves and the presence of electrified fences, these animals form small subpopulations and are fragmented and unable to move and interact freely.

Therefore the aim of the Cheetah Metapopulation Project is to develop and co-ordinate a National Metapopulation Management Plan for cheetahs in smaller fenced reserves. In particular the Project coordinates and facilitates the movement of cheetah between reserves to ensure genetic integrity is maintained and collects and analyses genetic samples to assist with a long-term management plan.

On the agenda for the meeting this year was a discussion on ways to address the current population decline in the Lowveld, identifying potential cheetah movements within the Lowveld reserves, and a discussion on whether cheetah should have a financial value.

We discovered that the main causes of the decline in cheetah numbers in our area is the lack of breeding reserves (i.e. reserves that only have single sex cheetah, females that are on contraception or infertile cheetah) and a lack of female cheetah in general. The group discussed ways to improve this situation by proposing movements of cheetah between the various reserves. We also discussed the possibility of bringing some new females into the metapopulation from outside sources. Everyone in the group is keenly watching our 3 cheetah cubs on Karongwe, in particular the two females, hoping that they are going to grow up and contribute to the cheetah numbers in our area in the next couple of years.

It was really satisfying to see that all members of the group present agreed that the cheetahs should not have a financial value, it showed that everyone was in the group for the right reason…conservation of the cheetah. Everyone agreed that by adding financial value to a cheetah would result in cheetahs being sold to the highest bidder rather than to the best reserve genetically-speaking. This results in some of the smaller reserves being out-bidded despite being a more desirable location for the cheetah and in some areas of South Africa it has resulted in the selling of wild cheetah into captivity. No one in the Lowveld Group wants to see that happen.

Overall the meeting was really interesting, in particular, for our new volunteers it was a great introduction for them to the issues of cheetah conservation in South Africa. It was fantastic to meet and talk to like-minded people from all over the Lowveld that are trying to help conserve cheetah and to see that we are making progress in the right direction.

Big thanks to EWT for giving us the opportunity to host this important meeting!