Reintroduction ecology: a behavioural analysis of cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) at two separate orders of habitat selection.
Madden, Anthony Luke
Large carnivores are the first to be extirpated from an area due to human-associated conflicts. However, the presence of these animals serves as a significant draw card for ecotourism as well as being a major contribution to the ecological integrity of an environment. Today, the efforts to reintroduce these animals to their historic home ranges can be seen across South Africa, often in small game reserves. Essential to any successful reintroduction project is the monitoring of the animals’ behaviour after their release, yet, research in this regard remains limited. In this study, I investigated the spatial behaviour of two reintroduced cheetahs, Acinonyx jubatus, into a small game reserve (180 km²) in South Africa, by assessing two orders of habitat selection. The first order was the home range establishment of the cheetah over time. This was achieved by creating both the 50% core and 95% total home range estimates as well as the cumulative home range estimates for every 30-day period post their release. The second order of habitat selection examined in this study was the feature selection within home ranges. This was conducted through the use of resource selection functions (RSF) that identified the preferences regarding aspects of topography, human disturbance and lion, Pathera leo, risk within the cheetahs’ 95% cumulative home range. Both cheetahs initially exhibited a large increase in the rate of area expansion in home range establishment. This was then followed by a stabilisation in the rate of increase which was indicative of successful establishment. The success possibly depended upon the employment of temporal avoidance strategies towards lions including avoidance at a home range scale, selection for dense vegetation coverage, areas close to rivers which would offer refuge, and avoidance of areas in close proximity to dams which are used by lions. Human disturbance seemed to affect only the female cheetah as she avoided areas with high road densities. The study deduced that the home range establishment of the cheetahs was successful and identified the fidelity of the study site.
A research report submitted to the Faculty of Science at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for a degree of Master of Science, Johannesburg, 2018.