Loss of habitat and its increasing fragmentation represents the greatest over-arching threat to both cheetah and wild dogs. Because both species live at such low densities and range so widely, their populations require much larger areas of land to survive than do those of other carnivore species. For this reason, wild dogs and cheetah are more sensitive to habitat loss and fragmentation than are related species. In the long term, conserving viable populations of wild dogs and cheetah is likely to require land areas far in excess of 10,000km2, unless very intensive management can be maintained. Fortunately, both species have the ability to survive and breed in human-dominated landscapes under the right circumstances – we need to work to create these circumstances in areas that may be protected, unprotected, or a combination of the two. IMG_4526They also have excellent dispersal abilities, so that conserving connecting habitat should make it possible to maintain gene flow between populations, and enable recolonization should recoverable areas of their range become suitable again.
Habitat loss and fragmentation (both species)
Prey loss (both species)
Both cheetah and wild dogs are highly efficient hunters, able to survive in areas of comparatively low prey density. Nevertheless, the worrying trend in many parts of their range is that wild prey is being lost to bush meat hunting (increasing in much of their range), high livestock densities, habitat conversion and/or veterinary cordon fences. As well as reducing the chances of cheetah and wild dog populations surviving, prey loss can also have serious indirect effects, since predation on livestock may become more frequent where wild prey are depleted intensifying conflict with livestock farmers.
Accidental snaring (both species)
Although neither species is regularly targeted by snaring both species may become captured accidentally in snares set for other species, the snares usually set by people wanting meat for the bush meat trade and for their own family consumption. Such accidental snaring is a major source of wild dog mortality in many parts of southern Africa and is the most serious threat to wild dog populations in several areas of their range. While effects on cheetah populations are less well quantified, snared cheetah are reported occasionally and snaring may threaten some populations.
Conflict with livestock farmers (both species)
Both cheetah and wild dogs are threatened by conflict with livestock farmers in parts of their geographic range. While both species tend to prefer wild prey over livestock, both may kill livestock under some circumstances and are therefore killed by farmers. Such conflict may involve both subsistence pastoralists and commercial ranchers. As neither species regularly scavenges, they are less susceptible to poisoning than are other carnivores such as hyaenas and leopards, but may be shot or speared. However, many projects throughout their range have been working to develop livestock management techniques that prevent depredation and it is key to ensure that this knowledge and understanding (and the tolerance that comes with it) is spread throughout communities who keep livestock.
Infectious disease (mainly wild dogs)
Infectious disease can have major impacts on wild dog populations. Rabies contributed to the extinction of the wild dog population in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in 1991 and there have been several outbreaks documented in southern Africa. Canine distemper caused at least one whole-pack death in Botswana and thwarted a reintroduction attempt at Tswalu in South Africa. Both rabies and canine distemper viruses are maintained within populations of domestic dogs hence disease risks are likely to be particularly high for wild dogs living outside protected areas, or in areas where domestic dog populations are increasing. Disease probably represents a smaller threat to cheetahs, although in some areas anthrax has caused substantial mortality. There is an urgent need to initiate or revive veterinary vaccination campaigns in all range states to prevent disease transmission from domestic dogs. Such campaigns would also be a major benefit to the human communities living with, or adjacent to cheetah and wild dog populations.
Hunting for live trade and other uses (mainly cheetah)
Cheetah are rarely hunted for their fur, or for cultural uses. However, high levels of illegal trade in live cheetah has been documented in Somaliland (for the Middle East market), this trade resulting in a sink for cheetahs from both Ethiopia and Kenya. Illegal trade in cheetahs has also been documented in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa and may be an increasing problem throughout the southern African region. The main sink area for such trade in the latter region appears to be the captive breeding industry of South Africa. Wild dogs are occasionally taken for cultural uses (especially in Zimbabwe and Malawi) and there are a few documented cases of wild dogs being captured for sale as live animals, the market being the Far East, but at present this use is probably too uncommon to constitute a serious threat to population viability. The challenge to the conservation world is to find effective mechanisms to monitor trade in the two species to ensure that it is not detrimental to the survival of wild populations.
Conflict with game farmers (both species)
Both cheetah and wild dogs are threatened by conflict with game farmers in parts of their geographic range. Since farmed game often represent the two species’ natural prey, there are few, if any, measures which can be taken to reduce predation by cheetah and wild dogs. Wild dogs are particularly unpopular with game farmers not only because they take valuable game, but also because their tendency to chase large prey into fences which can cause serious damage to the fences. It is imperative that the conservation community work with game farmers to encourage them wherever possible to make use of the tourism potential of cheetah and wild dogs and not to view them as a cost to their industry.
Poorly managed tourism (both species)
Unregulated tourism has the capacity to threaten both cheetah and wild dog populations. In cheetah, negative effects of tourism may include interference with hunting, scaring cheetahs away from kills to which they are unlikely to return, and separation of mothers from cubs as a result of interference from tourist vehicles. In wild dogs most impacts results from tourists visiting wild dog dens on foot causing packs to move dens or even abandon their pups. Well regulated tourism must be encouraged in areas with cheetah and wild dog populations, as it has the potential to provide much needed revenue to communities in the same areas, and to wildlife authorities.
Road accidents (both species)
High speed roads represent a threat to both cheetah and wild dog populations. Wild dogs in particular use roads to travel and rest, and are therefore especially vulnerable to road accidents. This is a particular concern where paved roads cross or adjoin major wildlife areas, a situation that could increase as African countries develop and the conservation needs of wildlife not incorporated into national land use planning.
With Thanks to…
The Range Wide Conservation Program is a joint initiative of the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Conservation Society, endorsed by the IUCN Cat and Canid Specialist Groups. The program’s core operating costs are funded by the Howard G Buffet Foundation. Many other organisations have supported or funded various aspects of the program.