Managing the matrix for large carnivores: a novel approach and perspective from cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) habitat suitability modelingScientific Papers
Effective management within the human-dominated matrix, outside of formally protected areas, is of paramount importance to wide-ranging carnviores. For instance, the largest extant population of cheetahs Acinonyx jubatus currently persists on privately owned Namibian ranchlands, and provides an excellent case study to examine and design matrix conservation approaches. Although human-caused mortality is likely the principal threat to this population, ancedotal evidence suggests that ‘bush encroachment’, the widespread conversion of mixed woodland and savannah habitats to dense, Acacia-dominated thickets, is another probable threat. A better understanding of cheetah habitat use, outside of protected areas, could be used to directly influence habitat management strategies and design local restoration and conflict mitigation efforts. To identify specific habitat characteristics associated with cheetah use, we used radio-telemetry locations to identify areas used intensively by cheetahs on commercial Namibian farms. We then compared the habitat characteristics of these ‘high-use’ areas with adjacent ‘low-use’ areas. A binary logistic regression model correctly categorized 92% of plot locations as high or low use, and suggested that cheetahs may be utilizing ‘rewarding patches’ with better sighting visibility and greater grass cover. We discuss the possible reasons for kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros, Namibian cheetahs’ preferred prey, exhibiting significantly lower abundance in high-use areas. Using habitat characteristics to identify areas intensively utilized by cheetahs has important implications for guiding future habitat restoration and developing effective predator conflict mitigation efforts.