Join the Cheetah Watch
Words and pics Matthew Schurch
Next time you’re in Kgalagadi, use the new #Cheetah Identification Guide for the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park# to identify individuals, then submit your sightings to help the monitoring of the park’s cheetahs.
The Kgalagadi is known as one of the best places in the world to view cheetahs hunting in their natural environment. Over the past eight years, many of the park’s cheetahs have become well known to visitors through the field research of Gus and Margie Mills. Particular favourites have been cheetah sisters Elena and Lisette, happily showing off and enthralling many guests with their litters of cubs in the Auob River, wearing radio collars for many years.
The Mills’ study highlighted that cheetahs are perfectly adapted to their hunting style and their environment. The greatest contribution to their daily energy expenditure is not from the high speed hunt as you might assume, but from the many hours they spend walking and searching for prey.
The two sightings of Smith occurred in December 2011 and 2013 respectively. Using the inside spots on the front left leg it is relatively easy to make a positive match. (Unfortunately Smith has since died. - Ed.)
Cheetahs all over Africa suffer from kleptoparasitism, theft of their prey by other carnivores. In the Kgalagadi around 9,3 per cent of cheetah kills are stolen in this manner. Only when kleptoparasitism levels reach 50 per cent do the cheetahs’ method of hunting become unsustainable. Other factors that cause the cheetahs to change their behaviour and move greater distances, such as human interference, could push their daily energy requirements to critical levels.
To continue the long-term monitoring of the Kgalagadi’s cheetahs after the conclusion of the field work, an identification guide has been created for the cheetahs, a companion guide to the Leopard ID Project. Over the past two years as many reports of the park’s cheetahs as could be found were studied, individuals identified and the Cheetah Identification Guide for the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park compiled.
Visitors can use the guide to identify individual cheetahs, then submit their sightings to contribute to the monitoring of these felines.
How you can help
Submit your pictures of the park’s cheetahs so that their movements and breeding success can be monitored. Use the ID guide to identify your sighting. Here are some steps that will make your task easier.
1. Decide on the appropriate section of the guide to use, this is typically sex or group composition.
2. Make a note of where you had the sighting and use this information to reduce your initial comparison sample.
3. Start with the inside leg spots when making a comparison. There tend to be fewer spots and they are much easier to orientate to look for a match. See the photos of Smith (first two images above) as examples of Smith. If you cannot see these spots then use what you have.
Email your sightings to Matthew Schurch of the Kgalagadi Leopard Project at [email protected].
To read more about Kgalagadi Cheetah identification, go to www.wildcard.co.za and type “Cheetah ID” in the Search box.
Source: Wild Magazine