Cheetah populations are declining in Africa, but is there a link to tourism?

A recent study says yes.

In areas of high tourist activity, a female cheetah only raised an average of one cub to adulthood, compared to more than two cubs in areas of low tourist traffic. That’s at least half as many cubs making it to breeding age because of tourist interference.

Female cheetahs give birth to large litters, but the mortality rate of cubs is high due to many natural factors such as predation and brushfires. A Science Associate at Kenya Wildlife Trust set out to see if any other variables were contributing to this rate.

Femke Broekhuis documented how many cheetah cubs in an area were raised to independence from June 2013 to October 2017 with a focus on specific variables: abundance of tourists, lions, hyenas, and open habitat.

Broekhuis found no correlation between the number of lions or hyenas in the area, but more cheetah cubs made it to adulthood in areas with denser habitat and fewer tourists. While cheetah habitat is mostly open, the cubs have better chances of survival when there is more brush available for hiding from predators.

In a similar study done at Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, female cheetahs were documented to have multiple full litters, but still only raised an average of one cub to adulthood. The cheetah populations will never grow if cub mortality continues to be high.

Understanding these effects is critical for creating future conservation efforts for species that are increasingly under threat. Increasing tourist attractions like photo safaris may be detrimental to growing cheetah populations.

Source: Kenya Wildlife Trust, Ecology and Evolution Journal