How Sydney is saving cheetahs

This International Cheetah Day, National Geographic talks to Ben Britton about the new cheetah breeding centre in Sydney and how it is helping the threatened species.

With fewer than 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, the future of cheetahs remains critical. Extinct in 25 countries and possibly extinct in a further 13 countries, cheetahs have vanished from over 90% of their historic range.

The big cat species is threatened by illegal wildlife trade, conflict with humans, sport-hunting and loss of prey due to overhunting and agricultural land development.

“To ensure the survival of the species, a multi-faceted approach is required,” Ben Britton Director of the Wild Cat Conservation Centre (WCCC) explains in an e-mail.

The WCCC team is working on the ground in Africa to conserve the remaining fragmented cheetah populations and their dwindling habitat, while at the same time ensuring we have a healthy and viable insurance population in captivity.

Image: Ben Britton and one of the cheetah cubs, Photograph provided by Ben Britton and the WCCC

For the last ten years, the WCCC has been slowly increasing their role in Botswana via their ongoing work with Mashatu research, contributing to field-research to better understand remaining cheetah populations, reduce human/wildlife conflict and conserve habitat.

“To secure and conserve cheetahs, maintaining wild cheetah populations and habitat is vitally important and the most important factor in saving the species,” Britton explains.

The establishment of WCCC’s new cheetah breeding centre in Sydney is designed to alleviate some of the stress on the species. Over the last 18 months, the organisation has been undertaking the single biggest importation of cheetah to Australia, with five new animals being imported to Sydney from international studbooks in South Africa.

These individuals are genetically unrelated to any cheetah currently in Australia or New Zealand and will provide the foundations of a new breeding program, the first and only one of its kind in Sydney.

The breeding program will work alongside international cheetah studbooks to ensure a large healthy population is maintained.

“At the same time providing an opportunity for the public to visit our conservation centre to learn about our work both here and in Botswana,” writes Britton.

The science of small population management aims to sustain populations that are sufficient in size to ensure high levels of genetic diversity.

“This will make sure the population is healthy and preserve the cheetah’s natural ability to adapt to changing environments either for release or long-term insurance,” Britton writes.

These newly acquired cheetahs will play an essential role in securing the species future, both as ambassadors for the species and breeding individuals.

WCCC is not government funded, they rely largely on donations and the support of the public and community via our registered not-for-profit foundation. Their Foundation is listed on the Department of Environment’s Register of Environmental Organisations.

Lead Image: Cheetah cubs, Ziva and Zane relaxing, Photograph provided by Ben Britton and the WCCC

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