Serengeti Cheetah Project

Cheetah on LandroverThe Serengeti Cheetah Project was initiated in 1974-1977 by George and Lory Frame, when virtually nothing was known about cheetahs in the wild, and information on their conservation status was limited. Tim Caro then ran the project during 1980-1990, and Sarah Durant took over its management from 1991.

The historical study area covers some 2200 km2 of short- and long-grass plains in the south-eastern Serengeti National Park. Approximately 2800 lions, up to 1000 leopards, 8700 spotted hyenas and 210 cheetahs live within the whole ecosystem, but these numbers fluctuate from year to year. Within the study area, the cheetah population fluctuates on average between 50 and 80 adults, and considerable fluctuations occur in local prey and predator abundance due to seasonal migrations of prey. These migrations follow the rainfall, which falls mainly between November and May, the wet-season months.

Cheetahs in the study area are located by eye by scanning through binoculars from high vantage points. Once located, they are approached slowly, and individually identified according to unique spot patterns on their pelage, and details about their location, reproductive status and the presence and identification of dependent cubs are recorded. In this manner the history of individual cheetah are tracked through their lifetimes. Demographic information including data on reproduction, survival, and ranging patterns has thus been collected on individual cheetahs throughout the study.

In addition, short-term projects have focused on different aspects of cheetah behavior and ecology, making use of information on the life histories of individual cheetahs. Initial research focused on establishing the basic natural history of cheetahs, whereas later work in the early 1980swas largely theoretical in nature. From the late 1980s the project started to address issues that were directly relevant to conservation. Today, the project continues to collect demographic data but focuses almost entirely on issues of conservation significance.