Quantifying prey preferences of free-ranging Namibian cheetahs
Marker LL., Muntifering JR., Dickman AJ., Mills MGL., Macdonald DW.
The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) has long been regarded as a significant threat to the interests of farmers of both game and livestock in Namibia and for this reason has been removed in large numbers. However, the diet of these cheetahs has not been documented; such documentation is an important component of any effective conservation plan. We performed feeding trials to relate more accurately the remains found in cheetah scats to the number of prey animals consumed. Using scat analysis techniques, we found that cheetah prey size ranged from birds and hares to large antelope. They rarely preyed on domestic stock, with apparent selection towards common, indigenous game species. Information gathered from aerial sightings of kills was significantly biased towards larger prey species. Data on the number of times cheetahs were seen near livestock or game were found to not be representative of the type of prey taken when compared to corrected scat analysis. Due to the diurnal nature and wide-ranging habits of cheetahs, they are sighted relatively frequently near stock, which may contribute to an exaggerated perception of their predation on stock. From the results of this study, livestock predation by cheetahs was estimated to account for at least 0.01 calves and 0.004 sheep per km2 on the Namibian farmlands, and may be substantially more depending on cheetah density. Any stock losses as a result of cheetahs and other predators can have economic impacts for farmers, and management techniques for mitigating such losses are suggested. The use of controlled feeding trials and subsequent calculation of a correction factor for scat analysis could be a valuable tool for gaining a more accurate estimate of carnivore diet in future studies.