Photo by Elizke Gouws - Running Wild Conservation
Running Wild Conservation predicted this possible extinction scare for many years now...
According to the latest statistics the main cause of cheetah population decline is that of habitat destruction and an increasing conflict with humans. I guess it is true to say that this is one problem these cats are facing, but as I mentioned it is only one problem. As a matter of fact this is probably the easiest problem to overcome due to the fact that protected areas can still be proclaimed by government institutions.
The true problem lies a lot deeper than just a shortage of free roaming areas for our cheetahs. One of the largest problems is that of genetic diversity, due to the near extinction of the cheetah as a specie during the Ice Age, almost all cheetahs are now so closely related it is very difficult not to have inbreeding occurring amongst wild cheetah populations. This problem is one that will be very difficult to resolve and will take extended periods of time to complete, time these animals don’t have. Secondly unbeknown to many is the conflict between cheetah and other apex animals such as lion and hyena. Large amounts of cheetahs are killed by these apex predators within the boundaries of national and private reserves. Again this is a difficult problem to solve due to the fact that for a private or national reserve to prosper, visitors to these reserves need to be at a maximum. The only way to achieve maximum occupancy within these reserves is to have large amounts of apex predators like lion, hyena and leopard. This then causes high rates of conflict situations between the cheetah and the apex predators that in turn culminate in the death of many cheetahs. Remove the apex predators and the guest numbers drop causing the reserve to be non-profitable and eventually resulting in the closure of that reserve, a typical catch 22 situation. Thirdly the trade in cheetahs as pets has hit an all-time high. Most cubs are bred in captivity and sold off to wealthy buyers but many are snatched from the wild and illegally shipped off to the Gulf States as a fashionable pet. Unfortunately most of these cats never reach the age of one year due to appalling shipping conditions, incorrect diet and care, or abuse.
But before you become too despondent, there is hope. Running Wild Conservation has had knowledge of the above mentioned problems for quite some time and therefore has developed a unique system to breed, train to hunt, DNA screen, de-humanize and perform a predator avoidance program prior to release. Without sustaining the current wild population there seems to be no real hope of these populations recovering from genetic loss. With our ethical breeding regime we ensure only the best possible genetically tested animals are used for breeding purposes. Any releasable animal is DNA screened and compared to that of the cats on the release area to ensure as diverse as possible genetic variance. It is of utmost importance that any cheetah ready for release goes through a de-humanising process to ensure that any human animal conflict is avoided as far as possible. This step will ensure the safety of the cheetah as well as any human that might cross its path in the future. A predator avoidance program developed by us is another step recommended for any cheetah that might be released onto a Big 5 reserve. Running Wild Conservation would prefer to release our cheetahs onto non predator reserves to eliminate any fatalities due to apex predators. But when our predator avoidance program is fully functioning it could be possible to release cats onto these Big 5 reserves.
Some attempts to release cheetah in the past have gone horribly wrong due to human error. The processes were not thoroughly thought through and the animals were by no means ready for their release due to factors like cats being too old to release including old tame cats that had never hunted prior to their release, human interaction taking place after release, hand reared cats being released onto reserves containing lions and hyena and the lack of post release monitoring has led to these attempts not being successful. As a result of these failures sceptics now say it is not possible to release a captive bred cheetah back into the wild.
Fortunately Running Wild Conservation have bred and raised many cheetahs of which four have now been successfully released into the wild so far. This is proof that our concept works and what we do does lead to the eventual release of a captive bred cheetah. With our ten step process to ready a cheetah for release including the post release monitoring of that animal for at least four months after release we are able to say that the release of a captive bred cheetah is not only possible but also crucial for the continuation of the cheetah as a species for future generations.
By combining our ground breaking work and future studies and research into cheetah health issues and genetic diversity we will soon become the world leaders in the breeding and rehabilitation of superior captive bred cheetahs.
By sharing this knowhow with other likeminded breeders we will be able to bring the cheetah back from the brink of extinction. We would like to invite all government and non-government institutions currently involved with cheetah research and rehabilitation to climb onboard with Running Wild Conservation to achieve the ultimate goal, that of a cheetah friendly mega reserve and to ensure the ethical and responsible breeding and releasing of cheetahs all across the African continent and to return the balance back to how it once was.
South Africa specifically needs a mind change if we want to stop the eminent extinction of our cheetah population. Conservationists, scientist, government and every person out there needs to understand that a conventional approach to the problem on hand cannot and will not change the facts mentioned above. We all need to start working together and think outside the box if we want any chance of turning this problem around that includes other means and ways of supplementing the current wild cheetah population with healthy, genetically superior animals. We owe it to ourselves and our children to get this ball rolling as soon as possible before its too late.
Visit www.runningwildconservation.org for more information.