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The Plight of the Endangered Cheetah in the Savanna Ecosystem

Savanna Ecosystem

The savanna seasonally dry grassland with some trees and shrubs scattered throughout. Savannas can be found in Africa, Madagascar, Australia, South America, India, and the Myanmar-Thailand region of Southeast Asia. The plants and animals of the savanna ecosystem are adapted to survive the long months of drought and take advantage of the rainy seasons.

Abiotic Factors


· Climate – Hot with extended dry and rainy seasons
· Rainfall – 50-130 centimeters per year during the 6 month rainy season
· Soils – very thin, supporting only grasses and scattered trees and shrubs

Biotic factors


· Plant life – largely grasses, some flowering plants during the rainy season, trees with deep tap roots such as the acacia and a variety of shrubs
· Invertebrates - grasshoppers, termites, and beetles
· Grazing herbivores- zebra, impala, giraffe and many others
· Large predators – lions, leopards and cheetah

Food Web


Savanna_Food_Web.png

Threats to the Cheetah


· Human beings are the number one threat to the cheetah
o As demand for farmland grows in Africa, the Cheetah’s habitat has been taken over by farmlands
o African farmers kill cheetahs because they perceive the cheetah as a threat to their livestock
o Poachers kill cheetahs for their beautiful hides
· The loss of habitat has forced cheetahs into direct competition with other larger predators such as the African Lion
· Decreasing numbers has led to a lack of genetic diversity in the remaining Cheetah population. This means that Cheetahs are not as adaptable to changes in their environment.
· At the present rate of population decline, some ecologists predict that the Cheetah could become extinct in as little as 10 years!

Importance of the Cheetah to the Savanna Ecosystem

As a large predator, the cheetah is incredibly important to its habitat. Without predators, grazers such as the zebra and wildebeest will become overpopulated. This can lead to overgrazing of the Savanna grasslands, which can lead to drastic changes in the entire ecosystem. Overgrazing can lead to erosion that can allow shrub growth to take over once lush grasslands. Without grass cover, other important members of the savanna ecosystem, such as the meerkat and riverine rabbit can become threatened as well. It is ironic that farmers who see the cheetah as a threat actually put their own farmlands at risk of desertification by reducing the numbers of predators in the ecosystem.

Conservation


I believe that conservation of the cheetah has to have three components. First, the governments of the countries where the cheetah still exists must educate the farmers and other human populations that impact the cheetah’s habitat about the role of the cheetah in the environment and the importance of preserving it. These education programs should help farmers develop methods for protecting their herds and livestock (such as fencing and corrals) without killing the cheetah. This will be hard because many of these African countries struggle with extreme poverty, and farmers struggle to just survive. Countries with more resources, like the United States, should help fund these efforts. Second, research needs to be done on the biology of the cheetah to facilitate captive breeding programs that can restore the genetic diversity of cheetah populations , leading to healthier animals. Third, more wildlife reservations in Africa need to be established so that cheetahs and other wildlife can live in an area protected from hunting and other competition from humans. Many of these efforts are already taking place, however, they need to be well coordinated and well funded. I think that a central website should be built where all the organizations committed to preserving the cheetah could post information, collaborate in their efforts, and raise funds.

Photo Credits:


Flickr Creative Commons Licensing:
Cheetah pictures, zebra, impala, giraffe, baboon, hyena
By Picture Taker 2
a very talented photographer!
Grasshopper
By MrClean1982
Dung beetle
By friel
Termite Mound
By khym54
Acacia Tree
By autan
Savanna Landscapes
By Martin_Heigan