WINSTON — Preserving the declining numbers of cheetahs in the world was the topic addressed by conservationist Rebecca Klein at Wildlife Safari Monday.
As executive director of Cheetah Conservation Botswana, an organization that began in 2003, Klein discussed recent accomplishments made in preventing further species decline. Education about cheetahs was at the forefront.
“Cheetahs are one of the world’s most threatened large cats today,” Klein said. “Their populations have halved in just a few decades.”
Cheetahs today are found mainly in Iran and in eastern and southern Africa, with Botswana located in the middle of southern Africa. Over the last hundred years, cheetahs have decreased in population by 90 percent.
In 1900, the cheetah population was estimated at 100,000. Today there are less than 10,000, according to the Cheetah Conservation Fund. The decrease in number is a result of increasing human wildlife conflict, habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade.
Today, Botswana is home to the second largest population of cheetahs in the world, with approximately 2,000 animals, which is about 20 percent of the world’s cheetahs. Namibia is home to the largest population.
Although about 21 percent of Botswana is wildlife protected, cheetahs roam outside the protected areas. With Botswana seeing increases in cattle and livestock since the 1960s, livestock owners who share the land with cheetahs consider the cats to be a threat to livestock and their livelihoods.
As a result, retaliatory killings have threatened the already vulnerable cheetah population. By working with communities and governments to present alternatives to killing or selling the cats, CCB has created a brighter future for the cheetah.
One of the challenges in the Kalahari Desert region of Botswana is ensuring the coexistence between people and wildlife. The CCB does this by educating people about the low numbers of cheetahs left and informing them that Botswana is home to one of the largest cheetah populations in the world.
The organization’s efforts include scientific research to gain knowledge about cheetah behavior that can be shared with local farmers. Other methods include teaching farmers about livestock management and animal enclosures.
“There is a lack of knowledge about these elusive cats,” Klein said.
Another program the organization participates in is a livestock guard dog program that trains local dogs to ward off predators. Bush camps for several days are also hosted to educate teachers and students about conservation practices for future generations.
While Botswana may have the second largest population of cheetahs in the world, Wildlife Safari has the second most prolific captive breeding program in the world. To date, Wildlife Safari has had 201 cheetah cubs born at the park.
As partners, Wildlife Safari donated $1,000 to the CCB Tuesday to assist with its cheetah conservation efforts.
For more information about Cheetah Conservation Botswana, see www.cheetahconservationbotswana.org.