Carnivore conservation

Minimum prey and area requirements of the Vulnerable cheetah Acinonyx jubatus: implications for reintroduction and management of the species in South Africa

P. Lindseya1 c1, C.J. Tamblinga2, R. Brummera3, H. Davies-Mosterta3, M. Haywarda4, K. Marnewicka3 and D. Parkera5

a1 Mammal Research Institute, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, 0028, South Africa, Endangered Wildlife Trust, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Nature Conservation Trust, Alma, South Africa.

a2 Centre for African Conservation Ecology, Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

a3 Endangered Wildlife Trust, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Nature Conservation Trust, Alma, South Africa

a4 Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Nichol’s Point, Victoria, Australia

a5 Wildlife & Reserve Management Research Group, Department of Zoology & Entomology, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa


In South Africa there are efforts to manage reintroduced subpopulations of the Vulnerable cheetah Acinonyx jubatus in small reserves (10–1,000 km2) as a managed metapopulation. We estimated areas required to support cheetahs given varying prey densities, prey profiles and presence/absence of competing predators. A recent population and habitat viability assessment indicated that 20 subpopulations of 10 cheetahs or 10 subpopulations of 15 cheetahs are required to retain 90% of the heterozygosity of free-ranging cheetahs and to overcome stochastic events in the absence or presence of lions Panthera leo, respectively. We estimate that 203 ± SE 42 km2 (range 48–466 km2) is required to support 10 cheetahs in the absence of lions, whereas 703 ± SE 311 km2 (166–2,806 km2) is required to support 15 cheetahs given equal numbers of lions, and 2,424 ± SE 890 km2 (727–3,739 km2) given equal numbers of leopards Panthera pardus, spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta, wild dogs Lycaon pictus and lions. Existing subpopulations of cheetahs generally occur at densities higher than our mean predicted densities but usually within the range of predicted densities. The large area requirements of cheetahs have implications for the development of the managed metapopulation. Sourcing reintroduction sites of the sizes required to support recommended subpopulation sizes will be difficult. Consequently, innovative measures to increase the carrying capacity of reserves for cheetahs and/or to enlarge reserves will be required. Managers may be forced to stock cheetahs close to or beyond the carrying capacity of their reserves. Consequently, careful management of reintroduced subpopulations will be required to prevent declines in prey populations.

(Received April 12 2010)

(Reviewed July 27 2010)

(Accepted August 24 2010)

(Online publication August 31 2011)


  • Acinonyx jubatus;
  • cheetah;
  • fences;
  • metapopulation;
  • reintroduction;
  • South Africa