Cheetah have disappeared from 76% of their historic range in Africa and almost all their vast historic range in Asia (Ray et al. 2005). Southern Africa is the Cheetahs regional stronghold with an estimated population of 4,500 adults (Purchase et al. 2005) constituting half of the world’s Cheetah population. In South Africa Cheetah were eradicated from 91% of their historical range during the tribal migrations and subsequent colonial period (IUCN/SSC 2007). Nevertheless, South Africa is currently home to the third largest wild Cheetah population worldwide. Kruger National Park and the South African portion of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park constitute the two largest conservation areas in the country and are currently home to approximately 42% South Africa’s Cheetahs. Despite heavy persecution, a free roaming population has always persisted on commercial farmland along the northern border of South Africa, stretching from the Kruger National Park all the way to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
The shift from cattle ranching to wildlife ranching over the past 25 years resulted in more suitable prey for free roaming Cheetahs but also resulted in increasing levels of Cheetah farmer conflict. Between 1999 and 2009 157 Cheetahs were removed from the free roaming population
on farmland and introduced onto 37 small fenced reserves throughout South Africa. These cheetah supplemented an existing population of cheetah on 8 small fenced reserves that was established when 181 Cheetah were sourced from Namibian farmland between 1965 and 1998. South Africa currently has a population of 318 Cheetahs on 48 small fenced reserves. Cheetah are no longer removed from farmland due to concerns around the impact on the free-roaming population and because relocation is seldom a long-term solution to conflict.
Small fenced reserves in South Africa are not large enough to hold a Cheetah population that is viable in the long term. The Cheetah Metapopulation Project was launched in 2011 to implement a more co-ordinated relocation strategy that will:
- Ensure the long-term viability of Cheetahs in small fenced reserves.
- Ensure the long term genetic and demographic integrity of the metapopulation.
- Increase the resident range of Cheetahs in South Africa
- Maximise the conservation benefits of Cheetahs in small fenced reserves.