Conservationists have raised the alarm over the rapidly depleting cheetah population in the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve, with numbers of the big cats dropping by 31 per cent over the past two years, according to a study.
The survey released by the Mara Predator Conservation Programme (MPCP) revealed that there are only 22 cheetahs in the larger Mara ecosystem. Conducted between August 1 and October 31 last year, the survey has attributed the decline to the high cub mortality rate. Cheetahs also face extinction pressure from climate change, hunting by humans, and the destruction of their habitat.
“In 2022, there were eight cheetahs that gave birth to 22 cubs, out of which 10 died contributing to 45 per cent of the cub mortality in the same year. Out of the 52 cheetah cubs born in 2021,18 survived, summing up to a 35 per cent mortality rate. The cub survival rate in 2022 remained at 42 per cent,” the survey report says.
“It is, however, important to emphasise that this is a fluctuation between two consecutive years and not a trend. All wildlife populations fluctuate naturally from year to year," it adds.
Within the same year, four adult cheetahs among them three males and one female were killed in the conservancies around the park.
The three males identified as Oldarpan, Olarishani and Leboo were members of the all-male coalition popularly known as “Tano Bora”. While Oldarpan and Olarishani were killed in territorial conflict with the coalition members, Leboo was allegedly speared to death by herders.
On the lion population, the survey says the density and abundance of the felines in the Maasai Mara have increased slightly.
The survey that covered an area of 2,581 square kilometres indicates an increase in lion numbers from 436 individuals in 2021 to 459 in 2022.
The lion population density has increased by 0.9 per cent from 17.12 per cent in 2021 to 18.04 per cent in 2022.
In October last year, Maasai Mara Game Reserve Chief Park Warden Stephen Minis warned that tourists and safari guides risked a Sh20,000 instant fine or a three-month ban if found near cheetahs with cubs less than a month old.
Cheetahs are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list for endangered and vulnerable species. According to IUCN, there were barely 7,000 cheetahs in the wilderness in Africa.
MPCP is now banking on the recently launched Masai Mara National Reserve Management Plan to enhance conservation efforts targeting the big cats.
Tourism stakeholders are calling for concerted action to protect endangered wildlife species.
East Africa Tour Guides/Drivers Association Chairman Felix Migoya urged enhanced protection against the continued loss of wildlife habitat occasioned by human activities.
“We are losing the big cats to neighbouring Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. The animals are relocating there due to continued threats to their existence in the Maasai Mara,” Mr Migoya told Nation.
“The cats are facing a lot of disturbance due to human activities such as uncontrolled grazing, lacklustre enforcement of zoning rules and encroachment of wildlife corridors,” he added.