Education Centre Web Tour - Ecology
33.5 million hectares or 40% of the country consists of communal lands. These lands are home to 70% of Namibia's total population of about 1.6 million people. Communal farms are primarily common rangeland and are used mostly for subsistence agriculture, consisting of small scale crop farming and grazing livestock.
36.2 million hectares or 45% of the country is taken up by approximately 7,000 private fenced commercial farms. Commercial farming accounts for about 20% of employment and provides an important export commodity. These farmers produce primarily cattle, goats and sheep. There is also some commercial crop production. Mixed wildlife and livestock farming is most common and trophy hunting is a large source of income.
Parks and Reserves
Namibia has 21 recognised parks and reserves that cover approximately 14% of Namibia's land surface. This figure exceeds the 10% recommended by the World Conservation Union (ICUN). The desert biome represents 69% of the total area being conserved whereas other biomes are not as well represented. Diamond reserves occupy 1% of the land.
A biome is an area with similar vegetation types and includes all animal life that lives in that area. There are four distinct biomes in Namibia. Each biome has its own variety of plant and animal communities. Climate, plants and animals separate biomes. It is often difficult to draw a line between biomes that have the same plants and animals.
The Namib Desert Biome
The Namib Desert biome extends from the Orange River mouth in southern Namibia, to the Kunene River mouth in northern Namibia. The Namib Desert covers 276,000 km². When simply translated, the Namib means, "bare place".
This biome is classified as hyper-arid, receiving less than 50 mm of rain per year. As a result, many plants and animals have adapted to survive with very little water.
The Winter Rainfall Area
A small section in the south western corner of the Namib Desert biome receives both summer and winter rainfall.
It receives more rainfall than the rest of the desert biome; therefore it has a much higher percentage of organisms. These include succulent plants, shrubs, insects and reptiles. Five of the seven Namibian tortoises occur in this biome.
The Woodland Savannah
This biome lies in the north eastern corner of Namibia. As a result of higher rainfall, it is characterised by the presence of medium to large trees. The animals found here tend to be browsers rather than grazers.
The Grassland Savannah
This is the largest biome in Namibia. It stretches over the entire central region of the country.
The vegetation consists mainly of grassland with scattered bushveld. It supports a wide variety of organisms, many of which depend on abundant water and large volumes of food. Animals migrate to areas that have received rain to take advantage of the new growth.
Where Cheetah Live
Animals, including cheetahs, are adapted to live in specific habitats. Cheetahs live mainly in grassland savannahs. They prefer habitat that includes some cover in the form of bushes, medium-length grass, trees and small hills. Cheetahs need abundant prey in their habitat to survive and reproduce. In Namibia their habitat is densely bushed due to bush encroachment.
Cheetahs sometimes live in a wide variety of habitats. They occasionally use semi-desert, dense woodland or mountainous terrain. Older animals unable to defend territories and young cheetahs just starting to live on their own use these marginal habitats.
A habitat is an area providing all that an animal needs to survive. It includes food, water, shelter, living space and a suitable climate. An animal may move away or die if its habitat fails to meet one or more of its needs.
Leave Your Mark
For over 50 years farmers have noted that cheetahs use certain trees. They call these trees "play trees" or "newspaper trees". The use of play trees is unique to Namibian cheetahs.
The sense of smell is one of the cheetah's main channels of communication. This communication is usually through scent marking at strategic sites. Play trees are often used for leaving communication through scent marking.
Play trees are used by cheetahs to mark their territory with either urine, faeces or by scratching. The trees normally have sloping trunks that branch into large horizontal limbs that can be easily climbed.
Wandering cheetahs visiting play trees inspect markings and identify other cheetahs passing through the area. Individuals visiting trees are mostly males. Females may only visit the tree when in oestrus and looking for a mate.
To Trap a Cheetah
Trap cages are traditionally used to catch wild cheetahs. These cages are placed directly along trails where tracks are regularly seen, or at play trees. The cheetah's drive to reach the play tree is very strong. To catch a cheetah at a play tree, thorn branches are placed around the tree to prevent the cheetah from reaching it. Since the only access to the tree is through the trap cage, they will not hesitate to go into the trap. Many cheetahs may be caught at the same play tree, as most of the cheetahs in the area will visit the tree to leave their mark. Whole families of cheetahs may be caught in this way.
Understanding Animal Movements
To understand how cheetahs use their habitat you must be able to identify individual animals and record their position periodically. Individual photos or distinctive collars would be useful if cheetahs were frequently sighted, but they are not. Trackers may note the spoor (tracks) of a particular cheetah at various places and estimate when they were made. This is difficult due to the large ranges they cover and the fact that individuals are hard to identify.
The preferred method to study cheetah movements is to radio-track individuals. A lightweight collar carrying a battery pack and a small transmitter is fitted around the cheetah's neck. The scientist uses a receiver and a special directional antenna (either on the ground or from a plane) to pick up the cheetah's signal. The receiver translates the signal into beeps. Each collar's transmitter has a different radio frequency so that many animals can be located during one "radio-tracking session".
Territories and Ranges
What is a territory?
A relatively small area that an animal defends against rivals of its own species. A territorial fight usually breaks out between members of the same sex. Defence of a territory can end in violence and death.
What is a home range?
It is usually larger than a territory and includes the entire area an animal uses but does not necessarily defend. Animals of the same species may share resources within this area.
Mammals of Namibia
A mammal is a warm-blooded animal that feeds its young with milk. Mammals have food preferences and are classified according to the food they prefer. Carnivores eat meat. Herbivores eat plant material. Grazers eat grass, while browsers eat mainly leaves from trees and shrubs. Mixed feeders eat both grass and leaves. Omnivores eat both meat and plants.
Endemic means that more than 90% of an animals or plants natural population occurs in one country or area.
An exotic animal or plant is one that has been introduced to a new area where it does not occur naturally.
Indigenous means that an animal or plant occurs naturally in a particular area.
The cheetah is a carnivorous mammal that is indigenous to Namibia
The Cheetah's Prey
A prey animal is an animal that is hunted and killed by other animals for food. Cheetahs hunt mostly small antelope, young of large antelope, warthog, hare and game birds. They may take livestock in exceptional or opportunistic cases. Cheetahs prefer game to livestock.
The cheetah's lightweight build limits the sizes of prey selected. Male coalitions can, however, overcome larger prey. Coalitions also stand a better chance at defending their prey against competitors than single cheetahs.
Predators have to work very hard to catch their prey. Cheetahs need to carefully select the animal they are most likely to catch. For this reason cheetahs, like all other predators, target animals that are old, sick, very young, injured, slow or just stupid. This allows only the strongest to survive and pass on their genes, thus maintaining a healthier game population.
Cheetahs have an average success rate of 50 catches for every 100 attempts. Female cheetahs with cubs are less successful because the cubs sometimes disturb the hunt.
Lions are less successful at catching their prey, with only 30 catches for 100 attempts. Lions seldom lose their prey to other predators.
Cheetahs are not the only predators in Namibia. Lions, leopards and spotted hyenas occur in high numbers in game reserves and national parks. These larger predators often kill cheetah cubs and occasionally adult cheetahs. They also chase cheetahs from their kills. This is the reason why cheetahs do not do well in these reserves. African wild dogs have similar problems.
Only 5% of Namibia's cheetahs live in game reserves and national parks.
Cheetahs seldom defend themselves against the other more powerful large predators. Sustaining injuries in fights could severely affect a cheetah's hunting ability that may result in death due to starvation. Cheetahs frequently have to surrender their prey to other animals, as their instinct is to flee rather than fight.
What is a Predator?
Predators are animals that hunt, kill and eat other animals in order to survive, grow and reproduce. Predators come in all shapes and sizes and include some bird, insect and mammal species.
Although cheetahs are often blamed for livestock losses there are other predators in Namibia that may opportunistically take domestic stock as their prey.
DIET: antelope, warthog, birds, rodents
SHOULDER HEIGHT: 70cm
LIFE SPAN: 18 years
CHIEF ENEMIES: man
BLACK BACKED JACKAL
DIET: young antelope, carrion, fruit
SHOULDER HEIGHT: 45cm
LIFE SPAN: 13 years
CHIEF ENEMIES: man, larger predators
DIET: chiefly carrion
HABITAT: open bush veld
SHOULDER HEIGHT: 80cm
LIFE SPAN: 14 years
CHIEF ENEMIES: man, lion
STATUS: common where protected
DIET: mainly rats and mice
HABITAT: areas with sufficient rainfall
SHOULDER HEIGHT: 56cm
LIFE SPAN: 12 years
CHIEF ENEMIES: man, larger predators
DIET: small game to adult kudu
HABITAT: grassland to open woodland
SHOULDER HEIGHT: 69cm
LIFE SPAN: 10 years
CHIEF ENEMIES: man
DIET: small to medium size animals
SHOULDER HEIGHT: 43cm
LIFE SPAN: 11 years
CHIEF ENEMIES: man
DIET: all antelope
HABITAT: grassy woodlands
SHOULDER HEIGHT: 105cm
LIFE SPAN: 20 years
CHIEF ENEMIES: man
NAMIBIA IS HOME TO THE LARGEST FREE-RANGING CHEETAH POPULATION IN THE WORLD.
95% of Namibia's cheetahs live on commercial livestock farmlands, outside protected game reserves.
The same land that supports cheetahs and their prey also supports cattle, sheep and goats. These farmlands support 70% of the country's wild game species, the cheetahs' prey base.
Predator Control is an issue around the world. An animal usually resorts to killing livestock due to a medical problem, human influence or a natural incident that renders it unable to catch its wild prey. Only a cheetah that consistently hunts livestock should be considered a problem animal. It is critical to identify the individual culprit causing losses rather than remove all cheetahs indiscriminately. The opportunistic killing of inadequately protected livestock, such as newborn calves in the bush, indicates poor livestock management that does not warrant the removal of the predator. Some farmers trap, poison and shoot cheetahs. This may not be due to stock losses, but simply because the predator entered the farm and is perceived as a threat to livestock or family.
Predator control most commonly involves setting live capture cage traps. Farmers also use gin traps and poisoned carcasses. These methods only increase problems, as they tend to lure and kill indiscriminately. Animals suffering as a result include ones that benefit the farmland ecosystem such as pangolin, aardwolf, honey badger and bat-eared fox.
What is a "Problem Animal"?
A problem animal competes with man, his needs or his activities. What a person thinks is a "problem animal" will vary depending on their needs or activities.
Changes in Habitat
Climate and wildlife laws change over time, influencing cheetah habitat. Drought in Namibia is a recurring event that is expected and managed. Drought cycles have been recorded at ten-year intervals although the drought of the 1980's continued for nearly 20 years until the rainy season of 1999-2000.
Drought and disease strained a habitat already stressed by high numbers of grazing livestock. Foot and Mouth disease killed many cattle. The first veterinary cordon fence was erected preventing migration of wildlife and spread of disease. Game was killed in high numbers to save grassland for livestock. The government transferred ownership of huntable game to commercial farmers to encourage wildlife conservation.
A period of good rains provided good grazing. This supported higher livestock and wildlife numbers. Predators, including cheetahs, found plenty of food. New pressure was placed on cheetahs with the introduction of game farms.
Drought led to the reduction of wildlife numbers from starvation and organised culling to save grazing lands for livestock. Game populations crashed by 60% over a two-year period. The cheetah's principal prey animal, the kudu, declined by 80% due to an outbreak of the rabies virus.
Namibia's cheetah population declined by 50% due to the indiscriminate removal of cheetahs in high numbers.
Limited and conditional ownership of huntable game was extended to communal areas through a Wildlife Council and Conservancy Committee. Farmers continued to perceive cheetahs as "problem animals". Due to conservation education programmes, more farmers began to tolerate cheetahs on their lands.
People, their use of the habitat, and weather will determine the cheetah's future...
One of the most serious environmental threats facing Namibia is bush encroachment. Approximately 14 million hectares of land (12% of Namibia) is now so badly encroached that neither man nor livestock can penetrate it.
Under natural conditions, the savannahs are covered with grasslands, scattered trees and shrubs, supporting a wide variety of wildlife. Herbivores usually feed intensively in localised areas for short periods of time. Plants and trees experience brief and intensive browsing and grazing pressure separated by extended rest periods. This, combined with regular fires, maintains a balance between trees and grasses. Larger animals like elephant and rhino aid in controlling the growth of bush.
Cheetah survival in bush encroached areas
Bush encroachment is the uncontrolled increase in unwanted woody plants. It is a form of desertification, where the thick bush replaces grasses.
Bush encroachment reduces carrying capacity for both livestock and game species. As bush encroachment increases, cheetahs must adapt their hunting techniques. Ambush tactics may replace the characteristic high-speed chase. Scientists are investigating a possible link between the increased occurrence of cheetah eye injuries and their hunting in bush encroached areas.
Dense bush, however, makes it harder for hunters and farmers to spot and shoot cheetahs so it may be a mixed blessing!
Cheetahs on the Farm
Namibian farmers have reduced or exterminated most other large predators including lions, wild dogs and spotted hyenas. With few natural competitors, cheetahs survive and reproduce in relative safety on farmland. The protection and maintenance of game animals on farmlands favours cheetahs. Their natural prey base is often abundant and drinking water is readily available at permanent watering points.
The Farming Community
Namibian farmlands form an ecosystem in which farmers and cheetahs play key roles. Farmers must be flexible enough to adapt their farming practices to changing environmental conditions. In doing so they have modified their farming practices to suit their farming requirements. Livestock and exotic animals have been introduced, barriers erected in the form of fencing, and indigenous animals harvested. Planting crops and over-stocking alters natural vegetation.
Commercial farms occupy and maintain the best cheetah habitat in Namibia. Almost all of Namibia's cheetahs live on these farmlands where they find necessary water and sufficient prey. The elimination of lions, hyenas and wild dogs is also in the cheetah's favour.
Very few cheetahs live on communal farms, mainly due to the low population of game animals and high number of humans. In some areas there is also competition from other large predators, such as leopards that sometimes kill cheetahs. The communal farming system does not allow for sustainable resource utilisation and is referred to as the " "tragedy of the commons". The wild game is no exception to this over-utilisation. This lack of an adequate prey base increases conflict between farmers and cheetahs, thus reducing the cheetah's range in these areas.
Some commercial farms have been converted to game farms by the erection of game proof fences. Game farms are ideal cheetah habitat because they contain the cheetah's natural prey. Game farmers, however, seldom tolerate cheetahs killing their valuable game. The majority of losses to cheetahs in game-fenced areas are exotic game, because they are more vulnerable to predators than indigenous species.
There are two varieties of game fencing in Namibia:
A fence that restricts the movement of non-jumping game, including animals like gemsbok, springbok and red hartebeest, is usually 1.4 m high with 11 wire strands. Fencing which is 2.6 m high and has approximately 21 strands confines exotic and valuable game such as blesbok, roan and sable. It prevents the movement of giraffe and zebra as well as high-jumping game such as kudu and eland. A veterinary cordon fence is also built in this style.
The electrification of game fencing, if well maintained, will keep cheetahs out of game farms, thus reducing conflict. Electrification is worth the investment as it protects valuable and exotic game.
What is Sustainable Utilisation?
Sustainable utilisation is the use and management of a resource without destroying it, allowing it to continue to be used, grow and reproduce. New methods of livestock and wildlife management are incorporated into agricultural practices to ensure a healthy ecosystem.
Mixed farming - wildlife and livestock
Combining game and livestock farming holds many advantages for the farmer. A variety of game species helps to maintain a healthy farmland ecosystem by using all levels and forms of vegetation. When livestock prices are low, game animals can supplement the farmer's income in the form of hunting, ecotourism or direct live sale. Game animals tolerate drought conditions better than livestock. They also act as a buffer, reducing the occurrence of predation on livestock.
Conservancies are legally protected areas with shared common resources where conservation is actively practised. Its purpose is to achieve a collective policy for the ownership, management and use of resources. Conservation is the management of human use of organisms or ecosystems to ensure that such use is sustainable. Conservancy objectives include the protection, maintenance, rehabilitation, restoration and enhancement of ecosystems.
Conservancies retain all income from wildlife and tourism based enterprises within the conservancy and decide on how these funds are spent. Commercial conservancies consist of adjacent private farms joining together in common units. Communal conservancies operate on a local level and membership is made up entirely of community members who decide to work together for the sustainable management and use of wildlife and tourism.
Each conservancy identifies conservation goals and designs a management plan to reach their objectives. These may include cooperative management and sustainable use of the natural resources in combination with agricultural practices. Guidelines assist members in coordinating the management and use of resources within the conservancy.
Namibia has a reputation as the "Cheetah Capital of the World" and tourists come to see cheetah habitat and learn how cheetahs survive on farmlands. Ecotourism focuses on animals, habitats and places of conservation interest. Etosha National Park, the Namib Desert and the Skeleton Coast are major attractions for foreign ecotourists. Lodges, guest farms and communal villages are points on Namibian ecotours. Many of these destinations promote cheetah conservation.
Sometime in the 2000's the annual number of tourists visiting Namibia will exceed 500,000. Tourists spend money on transport, lodging, food and souvenirs. This is an important part of the economy and a supplement to agricultural income for many Namibians.
An ecosystem is a shared place in the environment that includes both living and non-living things such as animals, plants, soil and water and the relationships that happen between them.
Traditional hunting versus Poaching?
Subsistence hunting for food is carried out throughout the world where families live off the land. Traditional methods of traps and snares are still popular but more and more people are turning towards guns.
Throughout the world, poaching has become a major problem. Poaching is the illegal taking of animals without permit or authorisation.
Conservation through sustainable utilisation
Sustainability refers to a process that can last forever. Utilising a resource sustainably means that using the natural resource will not destroy it. Hunting can be a form of sustainable use. A sustainable outlook on hunting also sets aside a portion of the revenue collected from the hunt to support conservation efforts for the species.
While hunting can sometimes replace predators in the control of game populations, it generally does not target injured, sick or unfit animals, as predators would do. Game hunters often lack the instinctive ability to recognise weaker or unfit individuals within a population. Thus hunting must be carefully managed to ensure that it is sustainable.
Hunting has changed through the ages from a necessity for survival, to a sport and a management activity. Ethical hunters and trophy hunting operations operate with the best intentions for conservation and the continued existence of the population being hunted.
In Namibia, there are a number of laws that regulate hunting. Permits are required to hunt wildlife that has been divided up into numerous categories, namely, huntable game, protected animals, specially protected animals and wild animals. With each of these categories there are differing requirements for permits.
Game farmers have to manage their herds throughout the year and on occasion they cull animals to reduce their numbers, through shooting or live sale. When animals are shot, the meat is sold for food. Game capture units transport and sell live game. Permits are required for these operations.
Hunting of Cheetah
It is legal to hunt cheetahs in Namibia. Since 1992, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) allows Namibia an annual quota of 150 cheetahs as trophy animals or for live export. Namibia is one of only three countries granted this quota as an economic incentive for farmers to allow cheetahs on their farms and to stop indiscriminate catching and killing.
To support long-term conservation strategies for the cheetah, the Namibian Professional Hunting Association (NAPHA) established the Rare Species Committee (RASPECO) in 1994. RASPECO developed guidelines and programmes to support the sustainable utilisation of rare species such as the cheetah. A CHEETAH COMPACT was developed that farmers and hunters have been asked to sign. By signing the COMPACT they agree that cheetahs are a valuable resource and cooperate in efforts to ensure the cheetah's survival by conducting responsible and monitored trophy hunting. Farmers additionally agree to stop indiscriminate killing of cheetahs and manage their property as cheetah habitat.
The ethical trophy hunting of cheetahs requires knowledge of their behaviour and ecology. Disturbing social structures such as shooting females with cubs or eliminating members of a coalition can result in cheetahs resorting to easy prey such as livestock. Ideally, only single males should be shot.
The vast areas covered by individual cheetahs and the thick bush in most parts of Namibia combine to make it notoriously difficult to hunt cheetahs. For this reason, trophy hunting is not currently a threat to the cheetah's survival. Continuous research and monitoring the population is necessary to ensure long-term conservation.
The long-term survival of the cheetah depends on the conservation of a healthy wild population. Namibia, the "Cheetah Capital of the World", is the stronghold for the cheetah's survival. Programmes developed here can be models for use in other countries.
There is a lack of knowledge about the cheetah's status, history, behaviour, biology and ecology. Information concerning the wild cheetah in Namibia and elsewhere in the world needs more publicity.
Outside protected areas, game populations continue to be reduced for food and profit. Cheetahs suffer as a result of reduced prey populations throughout their range.
The loss of suitable habitat due to increasing human populations has forced cheetahs into the remaining fragmented areas. Many cheetah populations are in serious threat of extinction.
Cheetahs are unable to compete with larger predators. This limits their survival in protected game reserves. Most cheetahs are found on unprotected land and compete with farmers' livestock and wildlife.
In Namibia, cheetahs can be legally trapped or killed if they are perceived as a "threat" to life or livelihood. Research has shown that livestock predation by cheetahs is minimal, however some indiscriminate removal continues.
Cheetah Friendly Farming
Namibian farmers practice diverse farming activities that form part of the ecosystem. It is farmers, hunters and game managers who will preserve Namibia's precious ecosystem for future generations to enjoy.
There is no single solution to predator conflicts. Effective predator control and overall farm management requires a variety of integrated management strategies.
Small stock practices
Kraals - Kraaling small stock at night enables monitoring and protection. Sturdy fencing or thorn branches must be tall enough to keep stock in and predators out.
Herder - Keeping a herder with small stock during the day provides additional protection.
Calving Camps - Close monitoring is made possible by locating calving camps near the homestead. This reduces losses to predation, accidents or other complications in the first few weeks of a calf's life. Larger herd size also discourages predators. Calves under three months of age and heifers (first-time mothers) are most vulnerable to predators. Closer monitoring will reduce losses.
Breeds - Choosing breeds that are more aggressive and allowing horns to grow on cows reduces losses to predators.
- Herd Management - Predators such as cheetahs are opportunistic. Management strategies should aim to protect livestock when they are most vulnerable, particularly at night and during birthing seasons. Culling animals that fail to produce or consistently lose calves to predation increases herd production.
- Seasonal Births - Seasonal birthing allows intensive monitoring of the calving/lambing herds. Synchronising livestock births with wildlife calving seasons ensures sufficient natural prey when livestock are most vulnerable.
- Fencing - Wildlife-friendly farmers use four to five strands of non-barbed galvanised wires for interior livestock fencing. These low fences are not high and leave a large gap along the bottom to allow migration of wildlife through farmlands.
- Guard Animals - utilising livestock guardians, such as dogs for small stock and donkeys for cattle reduces Losses. Guard animals need to be healthy and properly trained in order to be effective.
- Wildlife - Encouraging and maintaining an adequate density of natural game on the farm provides prey for the cheetah and other predators.
In Africa, property that is owned and managed by farmers can maintain viable populations of animals and natural habitats. It is the careful management of these habitats that holds the key to the future survival of plant and animal species such as the cheetah.
In order to ensure a successful future we need to be responsible custodians of nature. The way land and animals are managed determines the future of all ecosystems. If firm action is taken, our land can recover from any history of poor management.
- Profit - Proper management produces financial gains through increased productivity of land, livestock and wildlife.
- Nature - When left unaltered nature balances itself. In order to maintain that balance, man must learn to live in harmony with nature. This harmony is obtained through land, livestock and wildlife management.
- Land management - The productivity of the land depends on water and soil. Preventing erosion increases the potential for the land to produce food and allows water to penetrate the soil, thus carrying important nutrients to the roots of the plants. We must learn to live within the limits of the scarcity of water in our dry country.
The use of alternative fuels or efficient wood burning stoves and ovens reduces deforestation. Establishing timber plantations and using alternative building materials saves natural forests.
- Livestock management - Many farmers use rotational grazing where farmlands are divided into camps. Practicing rotational and seasonal grazing allows used areas time to recover.
Recovery of damaged land occurs faster if it is protected from the impact of overgrazing. Proper herd size is necessary to prevent overgrazing, trampling of the land and reducing predator problems. A balance of grazing and browsing animals reduces the pressure on one vegetation type.
- Wildlife management - Allowing wild animals to migrate naturally through farm areas promotes the balance of browsers and grazers, and allows predators their preferred food of wild game. This reduces the temptation to take domestic stock.
Ethical hunters remove older animals while predators also prey on the young, diseased and genetically weak. Together they keep wild herds healthy and in check.
- Losses - The balance of nature is tipped through poor land, livestock or wildlife management practices. Financial losses occur when the land cannot support productivity.