Simulations of Cheetah Roaming Demonstrate the Effect of Safety Corridors on Genetic Diversity and Human-Cheetah Conflict
(1) Keith Valley Middle School, Horsham, Pennsylvania, (2) Janssen Research and Development, Spring House, Pennsylvania
Human-cheetah conflict is driving cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) into extinction. It is estimated that there are fewer than 7,100 cheetahs remaining globally, and encroachment from human populations has reduced their habitat to less than 9% of their historic range. Further pressure on cheetah survival comes from their poor genetic diversity, which leaves them susceptible to disease and genetic abnormalities. To reduce human- cheetah conflict and to increase the interaction between cheetah groups of diverse genetic backgrounds, we have proposed the development of “cheetah safety corridors,” which connect different populations of cheetahs inside a protected strip of land. Computer simulations were developed to model cheetah roaming within a rural environment containing human populations of varying densities. Cheetah safety corridors were included in the simulations with a varying width of up to 90 km. Modeling of these safety corridors revealed a significant positive impact on cheetah lifetime, roaming range, and cheetah-cheetah interactions, which could lead to improved genetic diversity. Targeted investment in local communities inside the safety corridor had the biggest impact, with a 4-fold improvement in cheetah lifespan and a 20-fold increase in positive cheetah-cheetah interactions, compared to investment spread more uniformly across the entire simulated area. Engagement of the local population would be vital to the success of safety corridors so that communities regard cheetahs as an asset to the region rather than a threat.
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