Tourism preventing Kenya's cheetahs from raising young, study finds
Wildlife Tourism preventing Kenya's cheetahs from raising young, study finds
Research in Maasai Mara linked areas with high density of vehicles to lower numbers of cubs raised to independence
High levels of tourism can lead to a dramatic reduction in the number of cheetahs able to raise their young to independence, new research has found.
A study in Kenyaâs Maasai Mara savannah found that in areas with a high density of tourist vehicles, the average number of cubs a mother cheetah raised to independence was just 0.2 cubs per litter â" less than a tenth of the 2.3 cubs per litter expected in areas with low tourism.
Dr Femke Broekhuis, a researcher at Oxford University and the author of the study, surveyed cheetahs in the reserve between 2013 and 2017 to assess how the frequency of tourist vehicles affected the number of cheetah cubs that survived to adulthood.
âDuring the study there was no hard evidence of direct mortality caused by tourists,â such as vehicles accidentally running over cubs, Broekhuis said. âIt is therefore possible that tourists have an indirect effect on cub survival by changing a cheetahâs behaviour, increasing a cheetahâs stress levels or by minimising food consumption.â
Broekhuis said she has seen as many as 30 vehicles around a single cheetah at the same time. âThe most vehicles that we recorded at a cheetah si ghting was 64 vehicles over a two-hour period,â she said.
Too many tourist vehicles can reduce a cheetahâs hunting success rate, the study suggests, and even if the hunt is successful, the disturbance from tourists could cause a female to abandon her kill, making her less likely to be able to provide for her young.
Broekhuis said it was âcrucial that strict wildlife viewing guidelines are implemented and adhered to,â and suggested limiting the number of vehicles around a cheetah to five and not allowing them to get any closer than 30 metres.
Dr Sarah Durant, a cheetah ecologist from the Institute of Zoology and the Zoological Society of London, who was not involved in the study, suggested âoff-road driving should also be banned and enforced, as this enables cheetahs to avoid tourist vehicles should they wish to. What is needed is sustainable tourism that does not come at the price of the very species these parks are designed to protectâ.
Bu t Broekhuis is keen to stress that the tourism industry should not be demonised. âTourists can play their role in conservation by respecting wildlife and minimising disturbance at sightings, especially of parents with young,â she concluded.Topics
- Animal behaviour
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