Relative availability of natural prey versus livestock predicts landscape suitability for cheetahs Acinonyx jubatus in Botswana.
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Prey availability and human-carnivore conflict are strong determinants that govern the spatial distribution and abundance of large carnivore species and determine the suitability of areas for their conservation. For wide-ranging large carnivores such as cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), additional conservation areas beyond protected area boundaries are crucial to effectively conserve them both inside and outside protected areas. Although cheetahs prefer preying on wild prey, they also cause conflict with people by predating on especially small livestock. We investigated whether the distribution of cheetahs’ preferred prey and small livestock biomass could be used to explore the potential suitability of agricultural areas in Botswana for the long-term persistence of its cheetah population. We found it gave a good point of departure for identifying priority areas for land management, the threat to connectivity between cheetah populations, and areas where the reduction and mitigation of human-cheetah conflict is critical. Our analysis showed the existence of a wide prey base for cheetahs across large parts of Botswana’s agricultural areas, which provide additional large areas with high conservation potential. Twenty percent of wild prey biomass appears to be the critical point to distinguish between high and low probable levels of human-cheetah conflict. We identified focal areas in the agricultural zones where restoring wild prey numbers in concurrence with effective human-cheetah conflict mitigation efforts are the most immediate conservation strategies needed to maintain Botswana’s still large and contiguous cheetah population.
- RESEARCH: Somers M