Cheetahs and Conservation in Botswana
Cheetahs in Botswana have the largest population in the world, estimated to be around 1,700 individuals, which accounts for approximately 25% of the remaining wild cheetahs worldwide. Due to Botswana's location in southern Africa, this population is essential to link other regional populations. The cheetah and the African wild dog require large areas to survive, so protected areas alone cannot maintain their populations. Over 70% of Botswana's cheetahs live outside protected areas.
Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB) aims to protect the nation's cheetah population by conducting scientific research, outreach with farmers, community development and conservation education, and promoting coexistence with Botswana's carnivore species.
All of CCB's research focuses on human-wildlife conflict, and they conduct practical research studies that help mitigate such conflicts and protect cheetahs. Working with the Botswana government they facilitate coexistence between rural communities and carnivore species. They monitor cheetah populations using various techniques like spoor surveys and motion-activated camera trap surveys to assess whether numbers remain stable, increased or decreased over time. CCB has also been using motion-activated cameras to assess biodiversity on commercial farmlands in the Ghanzi District and nearby wildlife management areas.
Cheetah Population Dynamics
In the study of cheetah population dynamics, it is crucial to understand their trends over time in order to evaluate the effectiveness of conservation programs for the threatened species. Researchers have been monitoring cheetah populations in western Botswana's commercial farms, where conflicts with humans are most prevalent. Various techniques, such as spoor surveys and motion-activated camera trap surveys, have been used to gather data over the past seven years. The collated information will provide insights into whether the cheetah population has remained stable, increased, or decreased. This will help determine whether cheetahs are able to coexist with farmers or whether persecution remains the primary threat.
Biodiversity in Non-protected Areas
The significance of non-protected areas in maintaining biodiversity is often overlooked. Wildlife habitats can still exist in farming landscapes, and understanding the species present, as well as the factors influencing their distribution and occupancy, is crucial for farmers to manage the wildlife-livestock interface. The CCB has conducted biodiversity assessments using motion-activated cameras on commercial farmlands in the Ghanzi District. The study also extends to nearby wildlife management areas and can be compared with results from protected areas throughout the country. The knowledge of biodiversity in various land use types is necessary for conservation efforts at the national level. Surprisingly, several species not previously documented in the area have been found by the cameras, indicating that many species can coexist with livestock.
Finding Conflict Solutions
In the quest to address human-wildlife conflict, practical and effective solutions that reduce both livestock loss and carnivore persecution are essential. The CCB has undertaken various mitigation projects to reduce conflict. Trials have included the use of deterrents, such as Foxlights and Skaapwagters, deployed in key locations like kraals and waterpoints. Additionally, tracking collars have been deployed on cattle to explore the potential of using livestock movements to develop management methods that can reduce depredation.
Livestock Guarding Dogs
Between 2010 and 2015, the CCB research team conducted a nation-wide study to assess the effectiveness of livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) as a human-wildlife conflict mitigation tool in Botswana. The study showed that LGDs were highly effective in reducing depredation events by an average of 75%. It also revealed that local mixed-breed dogs known as Tswana dogs were the most affordable breed for farmers to employ and performed well across all aspects of guarding. The study helped shape new training techniques for LGDs, which the CCB now uses in its LGD training center.
Currently, the CCB conducts monitoring and evaluation of their LGD program. The program trains and places LGDs with farmers experiencing conflict with cheetahs. Regular monitoring of the dogs and the farms where they are placed allows the research team, together with the "Farming for Conservation" team, to assess progress and analyze whether the placement program is effective. Results of this analysis will be compared to results found from research conducted on LGDs sourced by farmers themselves.
Collaring of Cheetah
The use of VHF and GPS collars is a popular method for many wildlife studies, including those conducted by the CCB in the Kalahari region of Botswana. The organization has been utilizing collars for years to determine home range size, habitat selection, and movements of cheetahs. Recently, new studies have been aimed at tracking cheetahs in non-protected areas, such as communal farming areas and wildlife management areas, to show farmers how vast cheetah home ranges are and to promote coexistence between humans and wildlife.
Coexistence in Wildlife Corridors
One of the challenges of maintaining effective corridors for wildlife between protected areas is the conflict between communities and wildlife. The Western Kalahari Conservation Corridor (WKCC) is an important area for cheetah movement, and the CCB has identified it as a focal point to work with communities and promote coexistence. The Scientific Research department of the CCB is conducting questionnaire studies to understand the issues facing these communities and determine solutions to address these issues.
The CCB is also utilizing the expert skills of Kalahari San Bushman trackers to monitor carnivore populations in the Ghanzi District. The trackers are used to locate cheetah marking trees and to conduct spoor surveys to assess density for several carnivore species across the farmlands and to determine potential transboundary movements between Botswana and Namibia.