Cheetah Status In Kenya

Cheetahs in Mara are used to human presence

The global wild cheetah population estimates between 7,500 and 10,000 animals with the Kenyan population considered to be one of the strongholds for the species in Africa. It is believed that during the last 18 years cheetah numbers have declined by 30% primarily due to increasing impact of anthropogenic factors which makes direct (killings due to conflict with livestock and hunting for live trade and skins) and indirect (habitat loss and fragmentation, reduction of prey density etc.) influence on cheetah survival.

Two study areas - Masai Mara National Reserve (Mara) and Meru Conservation area (Meru) experience different types of anthropogenic (human) influences. The Mara has high tourist activity and relatively low grazing, while Meru has the low tourist visitation and very high grazing. The Mara (1510 km2) is one of the most popular tourist destination, while Meru (4000 km2) is considered to be one of the remaining true wilderness areas in Kenya and in the world. 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.

The Meru Conservation area includes five protected territories, of which three are accessible for tourists: Meru and Kora National Parks, and Bisanadi National Reserve, and two are closed to the public: Raholi and Mwingi (former North Kitui) National Reserves. Kora NP is famous for a lion re-wilding program by Jorge Adamson and his assistant Tony Fitzjohn in 1970s and 1980s.

In the Meru National Park, they are shyer

Meru is the park where two famous hand-raised cats have been released by Adamsons - Elsa the lioness and Pippa the cheetah. Here in Meru both cats have found their last place for sleep. Jorge Adamson was buried in Kora near his Campi ya Simba (Lion's Camp) in 1989 and the program of cat rehabilitation was closed. Stories of remarkable lives and trust relationship between wild animals and humans have been described by Joy Adamson in her trilogy about Elsa ("Born Free" etc.) and two books about Pippa ("Spotted sphinx" etc.), in Jorge Adamson's books ("My Pride and Joy" etc.) and Tony Fitzjohn's "Born Wild" book, and in several movies.

Cheetahs have not been monitored in the area since Joy Adamson's death in 1980. It is unknown how many cheetahs reside in the area and how do they adapt to environment changing. On one hand cheetahs are living in protected land, on the other hand they have to share territory with intruders who graze their herds in the area and see carnivores and the major threat to their treasure - domestic stock. While leopards hunt in the darkness and may hide their kills up on trees and thus are more secure, cheetahs are diurnal and can be seen during the daylight and thus are more vulnerable to humans and their guns and spears. Therefore it is very important to study cheetahs in such an area.

Mara and Meru
Graves of Pippa (on the right) and probably of one of her cubs in Meru NP

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