Written by: Bob Mandinyenya (Principal Researcher: Alert & Lion Encounter, Victoria Falls)
Volunteers were shocked at their latest sighting on the Conservation and Wildlife Research Project in Victoria Falls, based in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi National Park. Not seen for over a year, this cheetah made their day like no other sighting could. Read on to hear why it was so special…
Over the past 18 months of conducting a large predator occupancy survey within the Zambezi National Park (ZNP), the Lion Encounter / ALERT Wildlife Research and Conservation team (which includes our African Impact volunteers), had not been able to come across any evidence of cheetahs, although historically they are known to occur within some parts of the Zambezi and Victoria Falls National Parks.
The last sighting the team had was in June 2013, when two cheetahs were spotted approximately five kilometres out of the Victoria Falls town along the Victoria Falls-Hwange-Bulawayo road, an area which is right next to the Victoria Falls National Park and a few kilometres away from the Zambezi National Park boundary.
Considering the extent to which the Wildlife Research and Conservation team travel and carry out surveys within parts of the ZNP, we were almost convinced that there were no longer any resident cheetahs within the ZNP. However, during a road transect count on Monday afternoon; the team managed to sight a pregnant adult female Cheetah which was resting under a tree in a vlei within the Liunga loop.
The area within which this cheetah was seen is typically ideal for their habitation as they are known to prefer habitats with open savannahs and grasslands. However, as human populations grow and expand, agriculture, roads, and settlements destroy the open grasslands and this has been the major cause of the 76% decline in habitats that cheetahs favour.
Furthermore, cheetahs tend to encounter conflict with farmers when loss of their natural prey leads them to attack livestock, and farmers kill them, as pests, in retaliation. Over the last 18 years, the population of cheetah has declined by 30% with only approximately 7,500 adults remaining in the wild, occurring sparsely in the regions they still inhabit. Southern and Eastern African, however, still remains the strongholds for cheetah populations.
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