Scientists from the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) can give the all-clear: in a recent study they showed that cheetahs primarily prefer wildlife on their menu. The cheetah is a vulnerable species that only exists on Namibia’s commercial farmland in large populations. Here, local farmers see cheetahs as a potential threat for their cattle.
The conflict is an old one: wherever there are carnivorous wild animals, farmers are concerned about their livestock. In Namibia, the concern refers to the possible threat from cheetahs on cattle. When farmers in Namibia are missing a bovine calf, cheetahs are regularly under suspicion – nowhere else in the world are there as many animals of this vulnerable species as on commercial farmland in Namibia. But the suspicion can rarely be confirmed without demur.
In their recent study, scientists of the IZW investigated whether cattle is on top of the cheetahs’ menu. For this purpose they used an indirect method with which they were able to assess the diet over longer periods. “Traditionally, carnivore diet is determined by examining samples of fresh faeces. Faecal samples only provide a snapshot of the diet, based on the detected hair and bone samples of prey animals. One cannot therefore conclude which food items cheetahs devour in the long run”, explains Christian Voigt from the IZW.
Instead the scientists used samples of cheetah hair to determine the stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen. Herbivores have different food webs. One is based on shrubs, trees and herbs whose photosynthesis contains intermediate products with three carbon atoms (C3).
In contrast, grasses exhibit a C4 photosynthesis. These food webs can be differentiated with the help of the involved carbon isotopes. Herbivores typically only belong to one food web and the isotope ratio hence deposits in their body tissue. Small antelopes such as springbok or steenbok specialise on shrubs and herbs whereas the oryx antelope feeds on grass – just like the cattle. One step up in the food chain the isotope ratio of the prey transfers to its predator.
The study shows that herbivores of the C4 food chain, to which cattle belong, are nearly irrelevant to the cheetah’s diet. Grazers are only occasionally considered as prey by males when they occur in groups of two or three animals.
In this project the IZW scientists collaborated closely with the farmers. “We live with the farmers on their farmland and share our scientific results with them. In this way, we attain a very high acceptance”, emphasises Bettina Wachter. “The farmers passed on their experience in dealing with these big cats, as cheetahs cannot be simply lured with bait like many other carnivores”, she adds.
This is owed to the fact that cheetahs only eat prey they brought down themselves. Thus, aided by the farmers, the scientists installed box traps at marking trees, which were hidden by thorn bushes except for a narrow passage. The only way to reach their tree is passing the trap. Once a cheetah is captured it is sedated and thoroughly examined: body length and weight are determined, samples of blood and hair are taken and then the scientists release the cheetah equipped with a tracking collar.
“We conclude that the farmer’s problems are smaller than they had assumed before this study”, Voigt sums up. This study, published in the scientific online journal PLOS ONE, will contribute to the protection of cheetahs – but not in adversity to the interest of the farmers. “We understand their position. The concepts of species conversation always need to be balanced against the livelihood of humans”, says Wachter. The study is therefore an important mile stone to resolve the conflict between farmers and cheetahs.
Voigt CC, Thalwitzer S, Melzheimer J, Blanc A-S, Jago M, Wachter B: (2014): The conflict between cheetahs and humans on Namibian farmland elucidated by stable isotope diet analysis. PLOS ONE 10.1371/journal.pone.0101917.
Leibniz Institute for Zoo- and Wildlife Research (IZW)
Christian C. Voigt
Tel.: +49 30 5168-517
Tel.: +49 30 5168-518
Steven Seet (press officer)
Tel.: +49 30 5168-125
The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) investigates the vitality and adaptability of wildlife populations in mammalian and avian species of outstanding ecological interest that face anthropogenic challenges. It studies the adaptive value of traits in the life cycle of wildlife, wildlife diseases and clarifies the biological basis and development of methods for the protection of threatened species. Such knowledge is a precondition for a scientifically based approach to conservation and for the development of concepts for the ecologically sustainable use of natural resources. The IZW belongs to the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (www.fv-berlin.de)
Karl-Heinz Karisch | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Upcycling 'fast fashion' to reduce waste and pollution
03.04.2017 | American Chemical Society
Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences