Cheetah population declines 90% in 100 years:
An interview with Rebecca Klein of Cheetah Conservation Botswana
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
September 30, 2008
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Once found widely across the African continent to Kazakhstan in the north to Burma in the East, the cheetah has seen a dramatic reduction of its range and numbers in recent centuries as livestock holders have killed off the cat as a threat to their livelihoods. Today the cheetah clings to strongholds in only a few African nations. Among these is the southern African country of Botswana, which harbors large expanses of prime cheetah habitat.
With this as a backdrop, Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB) is working to preserve the country's cheetah population through scientific research and community outreach and education. CCB monitors wild cheetah to gain critical insight into their ecology, health and behavior; rehabilitates orphaned cheetah cubs; and is establishing programs to help farmers more effectively protect their livestock from predators. CCB is also looking at ways to promote wildlife conservation through economic incentive programs, including "Predator Friendly Beef" and alternative livelihood initiatives for rural communities.
AN INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA KLEIN OF CHEETAH CONSERVATION BOTSWANA
Mongabay: What led you to cheetahs in Botswana?
Video capture of Rebecca Klein. Take a look at CCB's videos.
Mongabay: What methods do you use to study cheetahs?
Rebecca Klein: Track surveys, camera trap surveys, satellite telemetry, community surveys, scat collection, disease and genetic sampling.
Mongabay: Why are cheetahs at risk in Botswana?
Rebecca Klein: Mainly from human-wildlife conflict and illegal trade.
Mongabay: How well protected are cheetah?
Measuring the teeth of a cheetah. Courtesy of CCB.
Mongabay: Do you know if the cheetah situation in Botswana representative of that for other parts of the continent?
Rebecca Klein: Botswana's cheetahs are doing well in comparison to many other African countries. Botswana still has wilderness areas and good prey populations. However, conflict due to human encroachment is increasing and the cheetah is under threat as throughout Africa.
Mongabay: In report you mention boreholes as a significant development in Botswana. How are these affecting wildlife in general in Botswana?
Rebecca Klein: Deep boreholes open up areas of wilderness that could not be used for permanent livestock pastures in the past due to low rainfall. Now these boreholes bring up underground water and make it possible for livestock and people to move into these areas. Now livestock compete for the grazing and water and wildlife gradually decreases.
Mongabay: Is industrial agriculture displacing hunter-gathers and rural populations?
Rebecca Klein: Yes, more commercial ranches have been designated over the last 20 years. The population is becoming increasingly sedentary.
Mongabay: Do these farms offer less employment compared to small-holder plots and traditional livelihoods?
Rebecca Klein: They give ownership of the land over to a few, whereas previously this land was available for use by the whole tribe and managed by the chiefs. So yes it decreases the number of people which benefit from the resources of these areas.
Mongabay: How significant is the illegal trade in cheetah? Who is buying?
(left to right) Dr Kyle Good (CCB), Rebecca Klein (CCB), two CCB volunteers, and Ann Marie Houser. Courtesy of CCB.
Mongabay: How big a risk are disease outbreaks among cheetah? If they are a significant risk, is vaccination an option, either of cheetah or domestic animals?
Rebecca Klein: There have been no major disease outbreaks in cheetah in Botswana. Anthrax is a particular concern and we vaccinate against this in cheetahs that CCB captures and releases.
Mongabay: Can cheetah recover quickly if provided with suitable habitat and prey?
Rebecca Klein: Yes, they do well in the absence of stronger predators such as lion and hyena, often raising litters of 5 cubs which grow to adulthood.
Mongabay: Some research seems to suggest a higher density of cheetah in agricultural areas. Is peaceful co-existence between cheetah and farmers possible?
Rebecca Klein: Yes if people take responsibility to manage their farms and livestock well using appropriate grazing management strategies, livestock husbandry and non-lethal methods of predator control.
Mongabay: Are there compensation programs for livestock killed by cheetah?
Rebecca Klein: Yes in Botswana cheetah losses are compensated.
Mongabay: How is your work received by local communities?
Community outreach. Courtesy of CCB.
Mongabay: What are ways local people can benefit from cheetah conservation?
Rebecca Klein: Ecotourism is the most achievable option. Also, through the eco-labeling of products form natural resources as wildlife friendly. Predator friendly beef is a potential opportunity.
Mongabay: Can tourism compete as a form of land use relative to beef?
Rebecca Klein: It is much more sustainable and less reliant on rainfall.
Mongabay: How productive is cattle ranching?
Rebecca Klein: In the Kalahari is can be very productive with good rainfall years but as rainfall is variable this is not assured. Overstocking and overgrazing are causing land degradation and bush encroachment and causing potential long term damage to this sensitive environment. Wildlife based initiatives will be a much more sustainable form of land use.
Mongabay: Is beef a major source of employment or just a powerful lobby?
Rebecca Klein: Both and it is also a strong part of the Tswana culture to keep herds of cattle.
Mongabay: What's your outlook for the cheetah and more generally the wild lands of Botswana?
Mongabay: Have you looked at the potential impact of climate change on wildlife in the region?
Rebecca Klein: Yes and this if rainfall declines in the Kalahari cattle farming will not be a feasible land use. It is already leading to reduced grazing, bush encroachment and desertification.
Mongabay: How can in the U.S. people help?
Mongabay: Any tips for aspiring conservationists?
Rebecca Klein: Keep focused and dedicated. Get your degree, preferably a Masters or PhD. Be prepared to volunteer to get experience. Dont give up! There's a lot of competition everywhere these days but there is so much that needs to be done!
Group takes "venture capital" approach to conservation