Assessment of Cheetah Prey Base Outside Protected Areas in Salama and Kapiti Plains of Southern Kenya
Over 80% of Kenya’s cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) population range falls in community and private lands. Conversion of cheetahs’ historical and geographical ranges into farmlands has led to loss of habitat quality and natural resources necessary for their survival. Understanding food resources and habitat characteristics that maintain cheetah populations outside protected areas is critical for cheetah conservation. This study therefore sought to assess density and distribution of potential cheetah prey in various habitat types in Kapiti and Salama areas of southern Kenya and the significance of each prey species in the cheetah diet. It also investigated vegetation characteristics of available cheetah habitats in the study area. Data on potential prey distribution and abundance were collected from July 2013 to February 2014 by means of transect counts. Cheetah scats were collected opportunistically in the study area for prey species determination using hair characteristics and their frequency of occurrence computed. Plot and plotless sampling methods were used to determine vegetation characteristics in sites frequently used/visited by the cheetah. A total of 19 wild mammalian prey species were recorded in woodland, bushed grasslands and open grassland habitats. Habitat type did not significantly influence cheetah prey species abundance in the three habitat types apart from the warthog (χ 2 0.05, 2= 0.8). Hairs from 21 mammalian species were identified from 27 confirmed cheetah scats. Cheetah diet in the study area was dominated by Grant’s gazelle (25.9%), Cape hare (22.2%) and goat (18.5%). Cheetah showed preference for wild ungulate prey (40.7%) compared to domestic animals (11.1%). Cheetah frequently used woodlands, shrub lands and bushed grasslands but did not show preference for any of the three habitat types. Strategies that encourage habitat and species conservation in farmlands should be developed to promote survival of the cheetah and other carnivore species. Monitoring of cheetah prey and their influence on cheetah movement patterns outside protected areas should be continued with a view to enhance cheetah conservation by minimizing conflict between cheetahs and people. Key Words: Acinonyx jubatus, habitat assessment, scats, prey, faecal hair analysis.
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