FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Cheetah Conservation Fund Delivers Missing Information Critical to Sustaining Biodiversity
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (May 9, 2019) – Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) announced a paper published this past week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) using data recorded in collaboration with zoos, aquariums and field researchers worldwide confirms critical information, such as fertility and survival rates, is missing from global data for more than 98 percent of known species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. CCF has been contributing data on animals that have passed through their Namibian facility since 2014. Since then, they have added data on 1400 birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals of 20 species, making a huge impact on the understanding of those species’ life histories.
“As an international conservation and education center with programs rooted in our own research, finding that missing data and filling in those knowledge gaps is game-changing for cheetahs,” said Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of CCF.
The information gap has far-reaching implications for conservationists seeking to blunt the impact of mass extinctions. At a minimum, scientists working worldwide on behalf of IUCN Red List, IUCN Species Survival Commission, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), TRAFFIC, Monitor and others require more complete data to make better informed decisions. The data in the case of the cheetah exemplifies how data has conservation applications.
That changed when researchers added data from a previously untapped source, the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS). Across classes of species, key blanks fill with salient data. Cheetah Conservation Fund records their animal data in ZIMS, which is curated by wildlife professionals working within zoos, aquariums, refuge, research, and education centers in 97 countries. It is maintained by Species360, a non-profit member-driven organization that facilitates information sharing among its nearly 1,200 institutional members, and is the world’s largest set of wildlife data.
A multidisciplinary team led by Species360 Conservation Science Alliance, with participants from 19 institutions, believes it can substantially increase what we know by applying new analytics to data that has been long overlooked, using data contributed by CCF and other zoos and aquariums around the world. General knowledge about cheetahs has grown exponentially since Dr. Marker started to gather information about cheetahs in the 1970’s. The increasing ease at which data is shared through systems like ZIMS allows for an increased understanding of cheetahs, what is known, and what information needs to be determined.
The demographic data that is shared by facilities caring for cheetahs has helped to improve the long-term care of the world’s managed cheetah population. By virtue of the comparative nature of the cheetah data, researchers can identify where the data diverge, allowing the two populations to improve best practices for each other. Additionally, information from cheetah holding facilities found in the database serves as a critical role in helping to update the International Cheetah Studbook, a ledger of all cheetahs in managed care, currently maintained by CCF.
Predicting when species are at risk, and how best to bolster populations, requires knowing at what age females reproduce, how many juveniles survive to adolescence, and how long adults live. The collaborative nature of the data for cheetahs (both in situ and ex situ) create a more complete and robust picture of life history and demographic measures and is being utilized to inform the conservation activities and policies for cheetahs in their natural range. To understand what data are currently available, and to measure the void, researchers developed a Species Knowledge Index (SKI) that classifies available demographic information for cheetahs and an additional 32,143 known species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.
Incorporating ZIMS boosted the Species Knowledge Index eightfold for comprehensive life table information used to assess populations. Information on the age of first reproduction for females, a key piece to estimating how a population will fair in the coming years, grew as much as 73 percent. Inclusion of data from organizations like CCF creates the opportunity for comparison, as wild and managed population’s life tables differ, and understanding how they are different offers valuable insight and removes potentially artificial information.
The study, Data gaps and opportunities for comparative and conservation biology, suggests a value far beyond the data itself. As Conservation Science Alliance and other researchers apply analytics to data aggregated across global sources, including ZIMS, they glean insights that impact outcomes for species in danger of extinction. Moreover, this can provide key insights for comparative and evolutionary biology, such as understanding the evolution of aging. The team of 33 scientists including data analysts, biologists, and population dynamics specialists developed the first Species Knowledge Index to map just how much we know about species worldwide. The index aggregates, analyzes and maps data from 22 databases and the IUCN Red List.
About Cheetah Conservation Fund
Founded in Namibia in 1990, Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) is the global leader in research and conservation of cheetahs and dedicated to saving the cheetah in the wild. CCF’s mission is to be the internationally recognized center of excellence in the conservation of cheetahs and their ecosystems, working with all stakeholders to develop best practices in research, education, and land use to benefit all species, including humans. CCF is an international non-profit organization headquartered in Namibia, with operations in the United States, Canada, Australia, Italy, Belgium and the United Kingdom, and partner organizations in several other nations. For more information, visit www.cheetah.org.
Species360, a non-profit NGO and global leader in wildlife care and conservation, mobilizes a network of more than 1,100 zoo, aquarium, university, research and governmental members worldwide to improve animal welfare and species conservation. Our members address today’s most urgent wildlife issues, including establishing best practices in husbandry, enrichment, medical care, welfare, reproduction, population management, and biodiversity.
Together, Species360 members curate the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), the world’s most comprehensive open database of knowledge on more than 22,000 species. ZIMS vastly increases what is known about thousands of species, and is instrumental in identifying sustainability strategies for many of the species assessed as vulnerable, endangered, and extinct in the wild. Species360 Conservation Science Alliance researchers provide conservationists with evidence-based findings integrating the full scope of global data, including IUCN Red List, CITES, TRAFFIC, EDGE, AZE, ZIMS, and more. Research led in collaboration with IUCN Species Survival Commission, CITES, and others, drives insightful decisions on many levels, from enforcing illegal wildlife trade laws to calculating viability of insurance populations.
Susan Yannetti, Cheetah Conservation Fund