By Esther van der Meer
The cheetah, the fastest mammal on land. Who wouldn’t like to see this iconic species in the wild? With cheetahs having vanished from over 77% of their historic range this has unfortunately become more and more difficult. Zimbabwe is one of the southern African countries in which cheetahs still occur. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has acknowledged the conservation value of their cheetahs by putting a national conservation action plan on paper. A key objective in this plan is to improve knowledge and expand research, which is where the Cheetah Conservation Project Zimbabwe (CCPZ) comes in. At the beginning of 2012 I founded this project with the aim to help conserve cheetahs through research, education, collaboration and capacity building.
CCPZ’s first goal is to collect up-to-date information on the cheetah population in Zimbabwe. With the last country wide survey conducted 14 years ago, there is an urgent need to find out where cheetahs occur, how many there are and what conservation challenges they face. We collect cheetah sightings and pictures throughout the country, which help us to identify individual cheetahs based on their coat markings. On top of that we are conducting a questionnaire-based field survey (partly funded by National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative), in which we interview people to find out more about cheetah occurrence and conservation challenges. This year we carried out our field survey in the northwest of Zimbabwe, an area encompassing most of Zimbabwe’s protected areas and part of the Zambezi transfrontier conservation area. Next year we hope to expand our field work to the southern part of the country, where cheetahs historically occurred in good numbers.
Bit by bit we are putting the pieces of the Zimbabwe cheetah puzzle together and are getting a clear picture of the status of the cheetah population. Ultimately, the collected information will help us, in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, to improve the conservation strategy of the cheetahs and set up research and education projects in areas where they are most needed. To follow our field work or find out more about Cheetah Conservation Project Zimbabwe see www.cheetahzimbabwe.org and facebook.com/CheetahZimbabwe.
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Esther van der Meer, graduated from Utrecht University with a MSc in Ecology and a MSc in Environmental Education. After working as a lobbyist/policy advisor for a Dutch NGO for several years, she moved to Zimbabwe to work on a self funded PhD on African wild dog conservation. In 2011 she finished her PhD and, with a lack of research on cheetahs in Zimbabwe, decided to dedicate her time to cheetahs. In 2012 she founded Cheetah Conservation Project Zimbabwe. For more information about Esther van der Meer or Cheetah Conservation Project Zimbabwe see www.cheetahzimbabwe.org or facebook.com/CheetahZimbabwe.