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The Mara-Meru Cheetah Project

About the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project

We actively sponsor the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project operating in affiliation with the Kenya Wildlife Service and led by Dr.Elena Chelysheva PhD, a cheetah expert with 30 years of experience in studying cheetahs in captivity and in the wild.

Every week during our safaris in Kenya, Dr. Elena V. Chelysheva presents an hour long presentation about her conservation and research into the cheetahs in the Maasai Mara. While we actively sponsor the project, it is also donation driven, so we do encourage our clients too that donations are appreciated for her time spent with us.


Elena presenting at Entim February 2017

Project head and founder Dr. Elena V.Chelysheva, PhD

In the 1970s there were about 15,000 cheetahs in Africa, while now the global wild cheetah population is estimated as low as 7,100 animals and confined to 9% of its historical distributional range. The last significant populations remain in Southern and East Africa, wherein the South African and East African populations are represented by different subspecies.

In the past cheetahs were widely distributed across Kenya. However, over the years, due to human population increase that has led to loss of habitat, a reduction in prey base, conflicts with people, diseases and poorly managed tourism, cheetah numbers have greatly reduced. Cheetahs are now resident in about 23% of their historical range in Kenya.

Cheetahs are considered vulnerable by the IUCN and are listed in CITES Appendix I. Preserving the remaining populations is a significant task now.

Project Mission
The mission of the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project is to promote the conservation of cheetahs through scientific research, community involvement and education. Follow the project updates on Facebook at Mara-Meru Cheetah Project.

Background of the Project
In 2000, Elena was invited by the Kenya Wildlife Service to work as Assistant Researcher at Maasai-Mara Cheetah Conservation Project. At that time, she started collecting photographic materials, and now the Project team is able to trace kinship between generations and to build Mara Cheetah Pedigree. This work has never been done before and the team is happy to share results with the Mara stakeholders. The ongoing research is a follow-up study, which will compare results with the previous one in terms of cheetah population status and effect of human activity on cheetah behavior.

Full Name of the Project
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) Population Status in Regions with Different Types of Anthropogenic Influence (Mara Ecosystem versus Meru Conservation Area).

The Mara and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in particular, has high tourist activity and relatively low grazing, while Meru has the low tourist visitation and very high grazing. The Maasai Mara National Reserve (1510 km2) is one of the most popular tourist destination, while Meru Conservation Area (4000 km2) is considered to be one of the remaining true wilderness areas in Kenya. Several studies have been conducted on cheetah population status in the Mara and can be used as a comparison in the current study. In contrast, there has never been focused cheetah research the Meru region.

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Mara and Meru are two regions of Kenya where cheetahs experience different challenges and where their population status and behavioral adaptations remain a mystery.

The Masai Mara National Reserve is world famous for its spectacular annual event – the Great Wildebeest Migration. The reserve is situated in the Rift Valley with Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains running along its southern border. Living on protected land, cheetahs here have to coexist with their natural enemies – hyenas and lions, at the same time to find their niche in an area crossed by dozens of cars in search of these magnificent animals.

The Meru area is known for its two national parks – Meru and Kora, where Joy and George Adamson were working on cheetah and lion re-wilding in 1960-80s. Little has been recorded about Meru cheetahs since. This conservation area is one of the largest in the country (4000 km²), and significant part of it is covered by thick bush. Cheetahs here have to share territory with herders who graze their livestock within the parks and see carnivores as the major threat to their livelihood – domestic stock. It is unknown how many cheetahs reside in the area and how well they adapt to environmental change.

In the wild, cheetahs are characterized by temporary social structures (groups of siblings of the opposite sex) and permanent social structures (male coalitions). These social structures show a positive impact on the cheetahs’ survival in their natural habitat. While the global cheetah population is going down, we expect these study areas will provide more details on cheetah survival strategy in different ecological conditions and will help answering the following questions:

  • How cheetahs find ways to survive and what behavioral mechanism do they use for adaptation to different environmental conditions?
  • What is the best type of land and wildlife management to support sustainable cheetah population in the country?

The Mara-Meru Cheetah Project works in affiliation with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Lomonosov Moscow State University (Russia), in partnership with Narok and Transmara County Councils and different Conservancies surrounding Masai-Mara National Reserve and in collaboration with other carnivore projects in the Mara and Meru regions for the best interest of cheetah conservation in accordance with the National strategic Plan for Cheetahs and Wild Dogs. The project also gets great support from over thirty Mara lodges and camps, of which driver-guides became field reporters for the Project.

The General Goal of the current research is identification of behavioral adaptations and assessment of impact of social structure on reproductive success and survival of the cheetah in the protected areas under anthropogenic influence.

Objectives

  • Estimation cheetah population dynamics in Mara and cheetah population status in Meru based on individual identification. Building Mara Cheetah Pedigree
  • Providing baseline information on cheetah social structure, habitat use, demographics and ranging patterns
  • Identification of major threats to the cheetah population: health problems (injures; diseases, i.e. sarcoptic mange etc.); conflict with herders; poaching and evidential snaring etc.
  • Evaluation of the predator impact on cheetah survival (with focus on lion, hyena and leopard)
  • Study development of patterns of behavior (dominant at a certain age) contributing to the species survival
  • Evaluation of the predator impact and human activity on cheetah behavior and identification of optimal behavior strategies for survival
  • Assessing the extent of human-cheetah conflict in the study areas and working out optimal solutions
  • Provide information for the development of management policies that will support a healthy and sustainable cheetah population in and around protected areas
  • Establishing educational programs and providing training to engage local people in conservation
  • Promote an understanding of the importance of cheetah conservation among international and local stakeholders
More about the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project

Please visit the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project’s website at marameru.org for more information, and for regular updates, please like their Facebook page at Mara-Meru Cheetah Project.

July 2017