Mara-Meru Cheetah Project

aims to secure habitats for the long-term survival of cheetahs and their ecosystems through multi-disciplined and integrated scientific research, community outreach and education programs

CHEETAH Facts:

Cheetahs don’t avoid water – they swim across rivers
Cheetahs hunt at night to avoid hot weather and disturbance
Cheetahs hunt alone or in group; they use a full-speed-chase or a slow-speed hunt
Males live alone or in coalitions consist of brothers/littermates
Females live solitary or in coalitions and can raise cubs together
Cubs have been seen accompanied by an adult female and a male
 

In the 1970s there were about 15,000 cheetahs in Africa, while now the global wild cheetah population is estimated as low as 7,500 animals. The last significant populations remain in Southern (Namibia, Botswana, SA) and East Africa, wherein the South African and East African populations are represented by different subspecies.

In the past cheetahs were widely distributed across Kenya. However, over the years, due to human population increase that has led to loss of habitat, a reduction in prey base, conflicts with people, diseases and poorly managed tourism, cheetah numbers have greatly reduced. Cheetahs are now resident in about 23% of their historical range in Kenya.

Cheetahs are considered “Vulnerable” by the IUCN and are listed in CITES Appendix I. Preserving remaining populations is significant task now.

Mission of the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project is to promote the conservation of cheetahs through scientific research, community involvement and education

Follow the Project updates on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/MaraMeruCheetahproject

Head of the Project: Dr. Elena V.Chelysheva, PhD

Background of the Project: In 2000, Elena was invited by the Kenya Wildlife Service to work as Assistant Researcher at Maasai-Mara Cheetah Conservation Project. At that time, she started collecting photographic materials, and now the Project team is able to trace kinship between generations and to build Mara Cheetah Pedigree. This work has never been done before and the team is happy to share results with the Mara stakeholders. The ongoing research is a follow-up study, which will compare results with the previous one in terms of cheetah population status and effect of human activity on cheetah behavior

FULL NAME of the Project: Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) Population Status in Regions with Different Types of Anthropogenic Influence (Mara Ecosystem versus Meru Conservation Area)

The Mara and Maasai-Mara National Reserve in particular, has high tourist activity and relatively low grazing, while Meru has the low tourist visitation and very high grazing. The Maasai-Mara National Reserve (1510 km2) is one of the most popular tourist destination, while Meru Conservation Area (4000 km2) is considered to be one of the remaining true wilderness areas in Kenya. Several studies have been conducted on cheetah population status in the Mara and can be used as a comparison in the current study. In contrast, there has never been focused cheetah research the Meru region

Study regions: Mara and Meru

Mara and Meru – are two regions of Kenya, where cheetahs experience different challenges and where their population status and behavioral adaptations remain a mystery. Masai-Mara National Reserve is world famous for its spectacular annual event – the Great Wildebeest Migration. The reserve is situated in the Rift Valley with Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains running along its southern border. Living on protected land, cheetahs here have to coexist with their natural enemies – hyenas and lions, at the same time to find their niche in an area crossed by dozens of cars in search of these magnificent animals.

Meru area is known for its two national parks – Meru and Kora, where Joy and Jorge Adamson were working on cheetah and lion re-wilding in 1960-80s. Little has been recorded about Meru cheetahs since. This conservation area is one of the largest in the country (4000 km²), and significant part of it is covered by thick bush. Cheetahs here have to share territory with herders who graze their livestock within the parks and see carnivores as the major threat to their livelihood – domestic stock. It is unknown how many cheetahs reside in the area and how well they adapt to environmental change.

In the wild, cheetahs are characterized by temporary social structures (groups of siblings of the opposite sex) and permanent social structures (male coalitions). These social structures show a positive impact on the cheetahs’ survival in their natural habitat.

While the global cheetah population is going down, we expect these study areas will provide more details on cheetah survival strategy in different ecological conditions and will help answering the following questions:

How cheetahs find ways to survive and what behavioral mechanism do they use for adaptation to different environmental conditions? What is the best type of land and wildlife management to support sustainable cheetah population in the country?

The MARA-MERU Cheetah Project works in affiliation with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Lomonosov Moscow State University (Russia), in partnership with Narok and Transmara County Councils and different Conservancies surrounding Masai-Mara National Reserve and in collaboration with other carnivore projects in the Mara and Meru regions for the best interest of cheetah conservation in accordance with the National strategic Plan for Cheetahs and Wild Dogs. The Project also gets great support from over 30 Mara lodges and camps, of which driver-guides became field reporters for the Project

GENERAL GOAL of the current research is identification of behavioral adaptations and assessment of impact of social structure on reproductive success and survival of the cheetah in the protected areas under anthropogenic influence

OBJECTIVES:

  1. Estimation cheetah population dynamics in Mara and cheetah population status in Meru based on individual identification. Building Mara Cheetah Pedigree
  2. Providing baseline information on cheetah social structure, habitat use, demographics and ranging patterns
  3. Identification of major threats to the cheetah population: health problems (injures; diseases, i.e. sarcoptic mange etc.); conflict with herders; poaching and evidential snaring etc.
  4. Evaluation of the predator impact on cheetah survival (with focus on lion, hyena and leopard)
  5. Study development of patterns of behavior (dominant at a certain age) contributing to the species survival
  6. Evaluation of the predator impact and human activity on cheetah behavior and identification of optimal behavior strategies for survival
  7. Assessing the extent of human-cheetah conflict in the study areas and working out optimal solutions
  8. Provide information for the development of management policies that will support a healthy and sustainable cheetah population in and around protected areas
  9. Establishing educational programs and providing training to engage local people in conservation
  10. Promote an understanding of the importance of cheetah conservation among international and local stakeholders

This long-term research, started with a reconnaissance in November 2011 and actual field work in October 2012. For several months the team had been based at Keekorok staff quarters in the heart of Maasai-Mara National Reserve and from June 2013 the project has permanent residence at the research base in Talek

Working as Assistant Researcher in the Maasai Mara Cheetah Conservation Project in 2001-2002, Elena Chelysheva developed original method of cheetah identification (based on comparison of spot patterns on the front and hind limbs and spots and rings on the tail). Collected over the years, vast photographic data of Mara cheetahs formed the basis for building Mara Cheetah Pedigree, which helps to assess population trends over the years, reveal parental relationship between individuals, cheetah lifespan, personal  reproductive history and survival rate of cubs.  This work had never been done before and the team is sharing Project results. So far, relationship between 36 adult cheetahs is known out of 99 individuals photographed from 2001 to date.

The team is working with many photographers, rangers, tour-guides, visitors and researchers who share with us their photographs taken in different years. As feedback, the team provides respondents with available information about these cheetahs (date of birth, kinship, personal history).

The project performs the following activities: counting cheetahs on the basis of individual identification; monitoring certain individuals through behavioral observations in different environmental conditions; conducting workshops for the County Government rangers and driver-guides: teaching them cheetah identification techniques and giving talks with the Powerpoint presentations on ecology and behavior of cheetahs in general and Mara cheetahs in particular; interviewing local communities around the Reserve and detection their attitudes to wildlife in general and in particular carnivores; working on educational materials on wildlife conservation for local villages and schools, targeting different age categories: children, youth and elders.

Data collected on long-term basis in different seasons, various areas and on different individuals will reveal mechanism of behavioral adaptations of these valuable species. Also we will provide stakeholders with scientifically based information on the level of tourism impact on cheetah behavior and survival.

By moving within the region, adult cheetahs, and cubs following their mothers get to learn different types of habitat and to experience encounters with prey, food competitors, humans and predators. By that they develop different behavioral strategies contributing to the survival, which we record while monitoring these animals. Hence the involvement of various Camps and Lodges from different parts of Mara region is significant to our project, as they provide us with information on cheetah sightings and photographic material.

Intensive behavioral observations will provide the scientific basis for modeling cheetah survival strategies in different ecological environments. The collected and analyzed data will help to improve cheetah conservation activities in the regions, since it will aid in the formulation of conservation strategies for this particular species in these regions.

Interviewing local communities provides an understanding of knowledge, challenges faced and perception about Mara wildlife of different generations of the masai. After processing of collected information on the above, ecological educational program will be developed. Findings of the project form the basis of community education which promotes the improvement in their knowledge, perception and involvement in the conservation of wildlife and in particular cheetahs.

The Mara-Meru Cheetah Project is funded with donations from sponsors. You have the unique opportunity to follow the lives of these wonderful cats, and even play a role in their future. You can name a cheetah and/or support any Mara or Meru cheetah you choose. Learn how to become a Team Cheetah Supporter.

To learn more about our work please visit our Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/MaraMeruCheetahproject

TAKE PART IN CHEETAH RESEARCH

You can help us by sending some of your photos of walking/standing/sitting cheetahs (profiles of both sides are preferable) to mara-cheetah@mail.ru or by uploading your photos to the computer at the reception desk together with your name and e-mail address, so we can tell what is known about the cheetah you observed. Your photographs will be used for identification purpose only and will not be passed to a third party

The research will benefit from any photos of cheetahs taken in the Mara in 1999-to date or Meru and Kora National Parks and Bisanadi National Reserve.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!