Vincent van der Merwe (Endangered Wildlife Trust, Carnivore Conservation Programme, South Africa) | July 17, 2018 - 15h00 | CIBIO-InBIO’s Auditorium, Campus de Vairão




Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) numbers have decreased across Africa at 2.26% per annum over the past century. Cheetahs occur in 29 subpopulations that have limited connectivity between them. Sixteen populations contain less than 30 animals and, with limited natural dispersal between them, are not viable in the long-term. In South Africa, cheetah numbers are increasing at 2.17% per annum - largely due to the managed metapopulation approach adopted for cheetahs across 53 fenced reserves which has increased both numbers and range. In these reserves, adult cheetahs and cubs have higher survival rates than on unfenced systems in Namibia and the Tanzania. Metapopulation cheetahs occur at some of the highest densities in Africa. Sixteen reserves in countries to the north of South Africa have recently been fenced to reduce human-wildlife conflict. Four of these have requested cheetahs from the metapopulation for restoration, providing opportunities to explore new avenues for the managed metapopulation approach. We acknowledge the limitations of the South African model: it is expensive; 7% of relocated cheetahs die; and natural landscape processes are not always at play. The less managed approach adopted outside of South Africa places a strong emphasis on natural gene flow through the establishment of corridors between conservation areas promoting natural recolonisation. Here we contrast the opposing conservation techniques and their efficacy in light of human population growth and economic development. We discuss whether the managed metapopulation approach will be suitable for creating safe space or simulating gene flow for cheetahs elsewhere in Africa.


Vincent van der Merwe has a MSc in Conservation Biology at the University of Cape Town and currently he is employed as Cheetah Metapopulation co-ordinator by the Endangered Wildlife Trust. Since 2011, Vincent has overseen the growth of the metapopulation in South Africa from 217 Cheetah on 41 reserves to 335 individuals on 53 reserves. In 2016 the Cheetah Metapopulation was expanded into Malawi, with the reintroduction of Cheetah into Liwonde National Park after a 20-year absence in that country. When he realised the potential of metapopulation management for securing safe space for carnivores, he decided to pursue a PhD on the subject. His research interests include the historical distribution of Cheetah in southern Africa, their genetic status and the global decline of wild Cheetah populations over the past 13 000 years.



[Host: Francisco Álvares, Conservation Genetics and Wildlife Management]


Image credits: Charl Senekal