The Rare Cheetah!!- Article by Gareth Jones
The Rare Cheetah In The Nairobi National Park
We awoke very early and entered the park just after 06h00. I decided to slowly head down towards the Athi Basin via the western boundary. We drove slowly and eventually arrived at the Ololo murram heaps, just as we began to move back towards the main road I saw a rapidly approaching dust cloud in the distance. I realized that this dust cloud was indeed a number of vehicles driving towards us, then suddenly the vehicles emerged from the dusty cloud, it was a convoy of five 4×4 vehicles. There was no doubt in my mind that these people were also looking for the recently seen cheetah family.
We avoided the thick dust by heading down a quiet track. Soon we returned to the main road and drove onwards towards No 16 junction. My thoughts at that stage were that our possibility of a Cheetah sighting was rapidly diminishing towards zero, mainly due to many people driving in the area. Then just as we passed No 16, my wife suddenly said “look cheetah up a tree”. WOW! I could almost not believe it, and immediately reversed our vehicle well away from the cheetahs, and switched off the vehicle engine. Initially, there were 2 cheetahs up the tree, then a single cheetah “posed” for about a minute, as the other two walked through the bushes and crossed the road in front of us. It all happened so quickly in just a few minutes. Thankfully the cheetahs were quite relaxed and did not appear stressed. We knew that previous sightings of this cheetah family counted four (an adult female and 3 growing cubs), however, there were only three cheetahs visible to us during this rare brief sighting.
A Cheetah sighting in the Nairobi National Park is a very rare event. Please allow me to advise on a few actions that will assist those who have a cheetah sighting in the future. 1) Travel very slowly when looking for wildlife, especially if you know cheetah could be in the area of searching 2) Switch off the vehicle engine as soon as possible 3) Try to ensure that the cheetahs have sufficient space to behave naturally 4) Be as quiet as possible as cheetahs are extremely sensitive to noise as well 5) Just pray they stay for as long as possible.
After this sighting of the only remaining cheetah family in the park, I began to reflect on my experiences regarding previous cheetah sightings in the Nairobi National Park. For example, in January 2012 I remembered a sighting when I looked over the plains not far from the Hyena dam in the Nairobi National Park, near the fence line a herd of Kongoni was feeding, to their left a whitish shape appeared in the long grass. The shape disappeared and then reappeared, then after looking through the binoculars, my heart leaped!!…..it was a cheetah!!! I drove closer and had a sighting of this cheetah stalking and chasing a herd of Kongoni. The last single cheetah cub sighting was in April 2012 between junction No4 and No5. YES! Cheetahs are the rarest cats in the Nairobi National Park. Sadly the exact place where the cheetah chased the Kongoni, is now in the area of the current Southern bypass highway.
The last time we saw a cheetah family (female with 5 cubs) was in 2003 near the Hyena Dam, including the mother stalking and almost catching a Bohor reedbuck. We spent almost the entire day with this family watching everything they did.
It is difficult to say exactly how many cheetahs are still in the park. There have only been sightings of a cheetah family ( female & 3 cubs) in recent months, and a lone male was last seen a year ago. Years ago the park had a healthy population, sadly changes in their favorable environment have caused them to be seriously reduced over a period of less than twenty years. Cheetah are fast efficient hunters reaching speeds of close to 115kph. They are very sensitive to human developments and easily threatened by other large predators.
There is a fairly healthy population of more than twenty cheetahs south of the Nairobi National Park on the Athi-Kapiti plains. It would be very sad if Cheetah are no longer resident in the Nairobi National Park. It is hoped by many that the Kenya Wildlife Services will find a way of re-introducing other cheetahs into the park so that their future will not be a case of going, going, GONE!! …..
A running cheetah is a fantastic moment of perfected motion, a blurred streak of graceful ferocity, and created beauty. They threaten no man and kill only for food. The world’s fastest animal is under threat from man-made developments, predators, and ecological change. Unfortunately, like all species in the world, cheetah populations have crashed over the past century. At the start of the 20th century, the global population was estimated at 100,000 in the wild. Less than 100 years later the population was reduced to only 15,000, then sadly in the first decade of the 21st century, there were only at 7,500, a 50 percent reduction in global population. The most recent International Union for the Conservation of Nature report shows that there may be as few as 6,600 cheetahs remaining in only 29 populations in all of Africa. The Kenya cheetah population is critical to the survival of cheetahs in the wild. It is estimated between 800 and 1,200 adult cheetahs remain in Kenya, and that as much as 80% of the cheetah roam on private lands outside protected areas. The greatest threat for the remaining cheetahs is the rapid change of land use and their habitats, therefore, being reduced.
In Kenya, there are a number of protected areas where it is still possible to see cheetah in the wild. The Masai Mara conservation area has the highest density, followed by other areas like Laikipia, Ol Pejeta, Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park, Amboseli National Park, Meru National Park, Nairobi National Park, and the Athi Kapiti plains. Yes, sadly it is so very true that the developments of mankind have indeed “cheated the cheetahs” of land they used to roam. We hope and pray that there will be a high-level Kenyan government priority to save the cheetah, so that their future will not be going, going, gone! but rather that their future will be going up and onwards to surviving and thriving!