The objectives of this study were(1) to analyse a data-set on cheetah home range size, habitat utilisation, prey selection and hunting behaviour in the Kruger National Park (KNP), and (2) conduct a comparative study on the above aspects of cheetah ecology across a variety of African savanna ecosystems. Cheetah home range sizes in the KNP for territorial male cheetahs were 173 km2, 438 km2 for a nomadic male cheetah coalition, and 193 km2 and 179 km2 for two female cheetahs. Cheetahs preferred open savanna habitat, although females used areas with thicker bush such as drainage lines) more than males, probably because this is the preferred habitat of their main prey. Analysis showed that while females were closely associated with drainage lines, males were closely associated with roads. A male cheetah coalition preferred scent marking along roads rather than in the bush. Impala occurred most frequently in the cheetahs’ diet, although males took larger prey than females. Cheetahs hunted and killed more frequently in open savanna, even though impala densities were higher in adjacent habitats. Mean chase distance for successful hunts was 18l9 m and unsuccessful hunts was 96 m. Cheetah hunting success was 20.7%, kleptoparasitism was 11.8%, mean kill retention time was 165 min, kill rated averaged 1 kill per 4.61 days, and consumption rate of a three-male cheetah coalition was 1,4 kg meat/cheetah/day. Across African savanna ecosystems, female cheetah home range size was determined by the dispersion patterns and biomass of medium-sized prey. Female home range size was larger in areas with migratory (833 km2) than sedentary prey (105 km2) and increase as prey biomass decreased in areas with sedentary prey only. Conversely, male cheetah territory size was smaller in areas with migratory (37 km2) than sedentary prey (108 km2). Although it was predicted that male cheetah territory size would be determined by female cheetah density, no relationship was found here. Across a range of African savannas, cheetahs showed distinct preferences for open habitats that provided some woody cover. Adults (40%) and juveniles (20%) of medium-sized prey made up the largest proportion in the cheetahs’ diet. There were, however, significant variations in the size and age groups of prey taken by cheetahs in different areas. Areas with the least amount of cover appeared to have the longest mean chase distance, and the greatest percentage hunting success and incidents of kleptoparasitism (%). A population viability analysis, using VORTEX, found that cheetah population viability was greater in a woodland savanna than a grassland savanna, particularly at small population sizes. While the grassland savanna population was most affected by changes in juvenile mortality the woodland savanna population with exceptionally high cub mortality may be a sink for cheetahs while the woodland population with lower cub mortality and predicted high dispersal rates may be a source. Maximum annual litter size and female mortality rates had large impacts on population persistence.
Dissertation (MSc (Zoology))--University of Pretoria, 2006.