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The East African : Sep 1st 2014
The EastAfrican MAGAZINE AUGUST 30 - SEPTEMBER 5, 2014 conse≥vation T≥acking cheetahs using pictu≥es V CLIMATE CHANGE Repo≥t lists ≥isks of unchecked emissions R Global wa≥ming is al≥eady cut- At the beginning of the 20th centu≥y, the global population of cheetahs was estimated at 100,000, and by its end had d≥opped to 15,000 w≥ites RUPI MANGAT rocky, mountainous terrain where cheetahs hunt mountain goats in this part of the continent. The big cat of the African T savannah is, however world famous for being the fastest animal on land, reaching speeds of 112 kilometres per hour. According to Dr Elena Chelysheva, a Russian zoologist who has been studying the big cats for three decades, both notions are correct. She has pictures of wild cheetah on the jagged mountain cliffs of the Atlas mountains, on snow in Iran and the rugged terrain of Afghanistan. At the beginning of the 20th century, the global population of cheetahs was estimated at 100,000 and by the end of the century, it had dropped to 15,000. In the first decade of the 21st century, the figure was alarmingly low – 7,500 only in the wild — a 50 per cent reduction. The reasons cited are habitat loss and reduction in prey base, human-wildlife conflict, illegal trade and poaching, diseases and also direct and indirect disturbance. In Kenya, these big cats can be found in 23 per cent of their historical range. Dr Chelysheva has been studying cheetahs for a quarter of a century and has worked in zoos and conservation centres in Russia, United Arab Emirates, and the US. In 1999, she moved to Namibia to volunteer for Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund who pioneered cheetah research in the wild in Africa. he Tuareg of North Africa call the cheetah “those who move slowly.” This is because of the At the turn of the millen- nium, Dr Chelysheva made contact with the Kenya Wildlife Service while on a safari to Kenya with a group of Russian travel agents, and the tour included the Maasai Mara National Reserve. KWS happened then to be looking for a cheetah specialist. “And here l was,” she exclaims. “KWS invited me to work as an assistant researcher at the government-sponsored Cheetah Conservation Project in the Maasai Mara.” The project was to ascertain cheetah numbers and threats in the Mara and the adjoining group ranches, which have morphed into modern-day community conservancies. Counting cheetahs isn’t easy work. In 2001, Dr Chelysheva developed an identification method based on the unique spot patterns on the limbs of the cats and the rings and spots on the tail using photographs taken by the research team, tourists, driver-guides, lodge managers, and other scientists. This method of comparing spot patterns was published in a scientific journal in 2004 and is being used by other researchers. “We use spots on limbs because in cheetah cubs clear spots will be seen first on the limbs, then on the tail and at last on the body. Unlike hyena spots, they do not fade with time but become brighter. The advantage of my methodology is that it makes it possibleto identify correctly individuals from the age of one month,” she explains. “Based on this method, we can work out the lifespan of the cheetah, the survival rate of the cubs, kinship between individuals such A cheetah named Malaika and her cubs at the Maasai Mara. Pictures: Elena Chelysheva ≥eco≥ded behaviou≥ •Cheetahs of the Serengeti ill proceed to eat after making a kill before another animal steals it. •The Mara cheetah will drag a kill to a safe place such as beside a bush, wait for up to 45 minutes looking around to ensure that there is no lion, leopard or hyena around and then eat as much as possible in two to three hours. •During the rains, a cheetah will stay with the kill in the same spot for two days continuously feeding. Carcass smell is diminished in the rain. • Cheetahs slink away when they see walking humans as who the mother was and monitor the status (disease and recovery from injuries) of individuals. It gives us the opportunity to chart the personal life and reproductive history of an individual.” With 20,000 pictures taken between 2001 and the present 110 adults have been identified. From 2012 to date, 64 individuals in the Mara have been indentified and the kinship between 47 adults revealed. In 2013 and beginning of 2014, 35 cubs born in 10 litters were photographed, out of which 89 per cent died of different causes within their first three months. In comparison, cub mortality rate in neighbouring Serengeti is lower – 64 per cent. The research team is in- DOs and DONTs in the park Be quiet at animal sightings Do not call or whistle Before approaching an animal, watch the animal to reduce incidents of interrupted hunts and courtships Avoid parking under trees, bushes and on the grass as these are used by animals DO NOT allow cheetahs to climb on your vehicle vestigating the reasons for this difference. In 2011, KWS commissioned Dr Chelysheva to follow up on her earlier research, which lead to the formation of the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project to include the Meru Conservation Area, in Kenya’s remote northeastern frontier. The research aims to reveal population status and identify behavioural adaptations of the cheetah in two areas, which experience different types of human influence. In Maasai Mara National Reserve, there is a lot of tourism, but relatively low grazing by livestock in comparison with Meru where there is high pastoral activity compared with tourism. The research team is set out to investigate the level of influence of other predators and human activity on cheetah behaviour and physiology, in particular reproduction, and survival — in the presence and absence of tourists. The first research was between 2001 and 2002, followed by the one at present, which began in 2012. Dr Chelysheva’s previous study shows that 75 per cent of cheetah behaviour is changing due to “the sounds of tourist presence.“ ting g≥ain p≥oduction by seve≥al pe≥centage points, the ≥epo≥t finds, and that could g≥ow much wo≥se if emissions continue unchecked. Highe≥ seas, devastating heat waves, to≥≥ential ≥ain and othe≥ climate ext≥emes a≥e also being felt a≥ound the wo≥ld as a ≥esult of human-p≥oduced emissions, the d≥aft ≥epo≥t said, and those p≥oblems a≥e likely to intensify unless the gases a≥e b≥ought unde≥ cont≥ol. “Human influence has been detected in wa≥ming of the atmosphe≥e and the ocean, in changes in the global wate≥ cycle, in ≥eduction in snow and ice, and in global mean-sea-level ≥ise; and it is ext≥emely likely to have been the dominant cause of the obse≥ved wa≥ming since the mid-20th centu≥y,” the d≥aft ≥epo≥t says. “The ≥isk of ab≥upt and i≥≥eve≥sible change inc≥eases as the magnitude of the wa≥ming inc≥eases.” The ≥epo≥t was d≥afted by the Inte≥gove≥nmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists and othe≥ expe≥ts appointed by the United Nations that pe≥iodically ≥eviews and summa≥ises climate ≥esea≥ch. It is not final and could change substantially befo≥e ≥elease. The ≥epo≥t, intended to summa≥ise and ≥estate a st≥ing of ea≥lie≥ ≥epo≥ts about climate change ≥eleased ove≥ the past yea≥, is to be unveiled in ea≥ly Novembe≥, afte≥ an intensive editing session in Copenhagen. A late d≥aft was sent to the wo≥ld’s gove≥nments fo≥ ≥eview last week (August 25). Using blunte≥, mo≥e fo≥ceful language than the ≥epo≥ts that unde≥pin it, the new d≥aft highlights the u≥gency of the ≥isks that a≥e likely to be intensified by continued emissions of heat-t≥apping gases, p≥ima≥ily ca≥bon dioxide ≥eleased by the bu≥ning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natu≥al gas. The ≥epo≥t funds that companies and gove≥nments have identified ≥ese≥ves of these fuels at least fou≥ times la≥ge≥ than can safely be bu≥ned if global wa≥ming is to be kept to a tole≥able level. That means if society wants to limit the ≥isks to futu≥e gene≥ations, it must find the discipline to leave a vast majo≥ity of these valuable fuels in the g≥ound, the ≥epo≥t says. It cites ≥ising political e≠o≥ts a≥ound the wo≥ld on climate change, including e≠o≥ts to limit emissions as well as to adapt to changes that have become inevitable. But the ≥epo≥t finds that these e≠o≥ts a≥e being ove≥whelmed by const≥uction of facilities like new coal-bu≥ning powe≥ plants that will lock in high emissions fo≥ decades. unaway g≥owth in the emission of g≥eenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new UN report.
Aug 25th 2014
Sep 8th 2014