Location: Africa
Project Managers: Steve Bircher
Species: Cheetah, lion, African painted dog
Priority: High

Background

The world's fastest land animal, the sleek and long-legged cheetah is losing its race for survival. Historically, cheetahs ranged widely throughout Africa and Asia dating back to the Great Ice Age. Today, fewer than 12.000 cheetahs inhabit a broad section of Africa, including areas of North Africa, the Sahel and the eastern and southern parts of the continent. Over the past 50 years, cheetahs have become extinct in at least 13 countries. Their two remaining strongholds are in Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa and Namibia and Botswana in southern Africa. Although the species faces different problems throughout its various geographic range, loss of habitat, ranchers killing animals, poaching and competition with large predators are killing off the remaining cheetahs. Furthermore, cheetahs are difficult big cats to breed in captivity. The global cheetah population’s lack of genetic diversity makes it more susceptible to ecological and environmental changes and disease threats.

St. Louis Interest

Since 1974, the Saint Louis Zoo has been a leader in cheetah research and captive breeding. Unlike other big cats, the cheetah has very different breeding and behavioral practices. What began as an interest in discovering what makes these animals so selective in mating has now become an international cooperative effort to link captive breeding programs with research and protection in cheetah range countries. The Zoo's cheetah breeding program has already successfully produced over 35 captive-bred offspring, but much more research and a stronger link between in situ and ex situ efforts are needed to create similar successes for threatened cheetahs in the wild. In addition, the Zoo has expanded its conservation efforts to include other large carnivores, e.g. the lion and African painted dog, which have an impact on cheetah survival and play a critical role in maintaining a balanced environment.

Goal

To educate the public and other stakeholders on matters relating to the cheetah, to support sound scientific research and to develop programs in East and southern Africa so that the cheetah's race will be one of survival, not extinction.

Conservation Science

The Center is focused on developing an effective cheetah census technique, efforts to reduce livestock conflict, conservation of cheetahs outside protected areas, veterinary and health issues, and education programs relating to cheetah conservation in Africa. The Center has expanded its census and monitoring efforts to include all 35 carnivore species in Tanzania. In addition, the Center is teaming up with researchers and project managers in Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa to promote the conservation of cheetahs through research, awareness and community participation in these range countries.

The Center will continue to support the Global Cheetah Action Plan & Global Cheetah Forum, South Africa, through its participation in future workshops, including educating people living near cheetah about its basic ecology, its importance as a species in the ecosystem and livestock and game management.

The Center will also continue to participate in the AZA Cheetah Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a program designed to manage a genetically healthy population of cheetahs in North America. This genetic reserve of cheetahs may provide insurance for wild populations in the future. In addition to its breeding efforts, the Zoo has a long history of cheetah research projects. One such project, a cheetah mate choice study, was designed to test whether female cheetahs can determine relatedness of males by investigating the male’s urine scents and ultimately select the best genetic partner. The results of this study may provide cheetah managers with another tool to enhance captive reproduction.

Partners

IUCN/CBSG Global Cheetah Forum
Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia
Zoological Society of London
Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute
Tanzania National Parks Association
Cheetah Conservation Botswana
Action for Cheetahs in Kenya
Kenya Wildlife Service
Wildlife Conservation Society