Estimating cheetah numbers in the Maasai Mara

May 3, 2016

In a paper published today in PLOS ONE, Dr Femke Broekhuis, Project Director of the Mara Cheetah Project and a post-doctoral researcher at WildCRU, said: ‘The truth is that estimates of cheetah numbers are only best guesses, because cheetahs are a lot harder to count accurately than one might think. They naturally occur at low densities and move large distances, making them difficult to find. Whatever the exact number, we do know that they are extinct in 20 countries and occupy only 17% of their historical range. We also know the major threats facing cheetahs: habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, depleting prey and the illegal pet trade.

Working together with Dr Arjun Gopalaswamy, WildCRU alumni at the Indian Statistical Institute, the study revealed an average of 1.28 adult cheetahs/100km2 in the Maasai Mara – an average total of 30 animals. This number is lower than previously thought – around half, in fact. The ‘spatially explicit’ method used can distinguish ‘visiting’ animals from those that reside permanently within the surveyed area, avoiding potential overestimation. The researchers compare this to counting the population of Manhattan in the daytime, which would give a vastly inflated figure because of the influx of commuters from neighbouring areas.

‘Counting cats: spatially explicit population estimates of cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) using unstructured sampling data’

Read more about the news story here