Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cheetah Preservation Struggle

This is an excellent article on the efforts to preserve cheetah populations in Africa.  An interesting point brought up is that herd protection obviously must be integrated with conservation of predators.  I am reminded of the use of powerful dogs for just that purpose.  The extinction of the wolf ended the practice in the USA, but with the reestablishment of predator populations, it becomes necessary to restore ranch dog populations.

Carnivores, if we want them around at all must be tightly managed unless having a hungry wolf pack sitting in your school yard appeals to you. Yet to preserve populations on preserves is feasible with close monitoring provided their hunting patterns are not too excessive.

The cheetah has been a special interest of mine.  First off it passed through a genetic bottleneck I think around 30,000 years ago when only a handful of individuals existed.  This is not understood.  Second the genetic makeup is unusual as is humanity’s by the way.  It could be a combination of African hunting dog and some small cat because the count is equal to the addition of the two.  This is otherwise simply unique.  The argument for something unusual happening is pretty good.  The cheetah is not simply a member of the cat family.

The population has been in severe retreat as has that of all predators in Africa and that is no surprise.  Every farm boy has a cheap rifle these days and no love is lost for animals that can take down the family livelihood.

World's Fastest Cat on Its Ninth Life

Jennie Lorentsson interviews cheetah conservationist LAURIE MARKER

UNITED NATIONS, May 6, 2010 (IPS) - Over the last century, 90 percent of the cheetah population in the world has been killed, and it is now the most endangered animal in Africa.

During the 1980s, the cheetah population of Namibia was cut in half, to less than 2,500, Habitat loss, population, land pressure and a lack of genetic variation placed great pressure on the famed cat. 

But thanks to Laurie Marker, the founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, who has worked to protect the cheetahs from extinction for 36 years, the world's fastest land animal has a future. 

IPS spoke with Marker, who was recently awarded the prestigious Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, commonly known as the "Nobel of Ecology". Excerpts from the interview follow. 

Q: You started your career in a wildlife park in Oregon. How did you end up in Namibia

A: No one knew anything about [cheetahs] back in those days, and they became the focal part of my research. I ended up in Namibia in 1977 doing research on cheetahs. I actually took a cheetah back to Africa to find out if a cat or cheetah can go back and learn how to hunt. And I taught it how to hunt. 

Q: In reality, how large is the amount of damage to domestic stock caused by cheetahs? 

A: It became more of a perceived threat than it was actually... the fact is that worldwide ranchers do not like predators, so where there was a cheetah and they could see it, they were killing it. The world has killed off most of our predators, unfortunately.

Q: What did the ranchers think about cheetahs in 1977? 

A: When I first moved there people said "take all your cheetahs with you back to America". Now they kind of like me, and they almost think that cheetahs are a pretty special animal. Over the last 30 to 40 years we have learned a huge amount on the integrated system of nature and what key role different species do play - like the honeybees and the bats being key pollinators, and a top predator being a regulator of healthy large systems. 

The town which I live outside of, a ranching town, has coined their town the cheetah capital of the world, that is pretty interesting. 

Q: How do you teach people the importance of biodiversity, and are they interested? 

A: In Africa we do it through education, working with school children, working with subsistence and commercial farmers, working with government, agriculture department, ministry of environment, education and business. 

I think people are interested. Namibia was the first country that actually put protection of its environment in to its constitution. The constitution for the last 20 years has talked about the fact that people are interrelated to their natural environment and that we have to protect it... After almost two generations in Namibia, you really see a change. 

Q: Another problem was habitat loss because of the spread of thorny bushes - a problem that limits the cheetahs' ability to see prey when hunting and also reduces the open space cheetahs need to accelerate and catch their prey. How did they spread so fast? 

A: The thorny bushes came 50 to 60 years ago when ranchers were overgrazing the land and particularly when drought seasons came. When all the grass went, because the cows ate all the grass, the thorn bush - which is very fast growing and has very, very deep roots and sucks out all the water so grass does not grow - it took over a large part of the land. In a very simplistic way this bush that stands twice your size has reduced much of the biodiversity as well the habitat. 

Q: You came up with a solution for both cheetahs and people. How does it work? 

A: We cut the bushes down and chipped them up in a chipper and then we made through high pressure a fuel log of them. The fuel is an eco-log because it burns with a very hot heat and very low emissions, so it is carbon neutral. If you can affect the economies then you can help people out of their poverty cycle.

Q: Today, there are approximately 10,000 of these endangered cats remaining in Africa and Asia. How many cheetahs would it take to be safe from extinction?

A: I would actually like to see us double the population in the next 10 years. It is actually doable and we can even do better than that. Less than 100 years ago there were 100,000 of them, in 90 years 90 percent of them have been killed. It can happen so quickly.

Q: Are compensation programmes for the ranchers a solution?

A: We are trying to encourage most countries not to have a compensation programme. We would rather, through good livestock and wildlife management, pay a compensation for our predator-friendly beef, so that they would then be compensated for not having losses. If you have good livestock management you can live with any predator in the world. Our cheetah work has actually taught us a lot about that and we teach this to people who live with wolves. 

Q: You use a special dog to protect the livestock from cheetahs. Does that really work? 

A: We are using large breeds from dogs from Turkey. We breed them and donate them to the farmers... It is an old European method that people had forgotten about. 

Q: What is the U.N. doing for the cheetah and what needs to be done? 

A: We would like the U.N. to help to support more programmes like ours - which are trying to get these models through to other countries... we need funds to actually put some of these programmes into affect. (END) 

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