By Rosemary Groom
When it comes to space, both the African wild dog and the cheetah should be classed as “very needy,” and to add to this they almost always occur at low density. And therein lies one of the greatest challenges for their conservation: viable populations are rarely found exclusively within the confines of protected areas, or even within single countries. In fact, while a female cheetah in Serengeti could be expected to have a home range of about 1,000km² [386 square miles\, the same area could support many times that number of leopard or lion. Cheetah and wild dog conservation therefore requires management at a geographical scale rarely before considered in terrestrial conservation, and that is exactly what the Rangewide Conservation Program for Cheetah and Wild Dog (RWCP) aims to achieve.
The RWCP is a joint initiative of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), in partnership with the Cat and Canid Specialist Groups of the IUCN/SSC. The program, funded by the Howard G Buffet Foundation, in partnership with the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, was initiated as an innovative rangewide conservation planning process in 2007, and regional conservation strategies have since been developed for the three regions of southern, eastern and north, west and central Africa. Crucially, these strategies were devised in full collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders and they lay out the conservation goals and actions for cheetah and wild dog conservation. Subsequently, National Action Plans have been developed for 13 range countries, in order that the responsibility for conservation action is taken on at the national level.
The program is making important advances concerning the effective conservation of these wide ranging endangered species at both the regional and range-wide scales. The breadth of the challenge taken on by the program is reflected in the range of conservation methods employed; these include a comprehensive and regularly updated mapping process, support for all on-the-ground field programs, an innovative education and community outreach program and training of senior wildlife managers from all range states. Key projects include a review of the policy and legislative environment for large carnivore conservation in southern Africa, the initiation of a study on the illegal hunting and bushmeat trade, and work on the illegal trade in cheetah. Future activities include an African-wide crowd sourcing program for cheetah and wild dog sightings, a connectivity survey in the Mozambican part of the Greater Limpopo TFCA and a training and mentorship program for a cohort of national carnivore coordinators. More....