A Wildlife Conservation Society-supported survey of the Sahara has captured the first camera-trap photographs of the critically endangered Saharan cheetah in Algeria. The survey was conducted by researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Office du Parc National de l'Ahaggar (OPNA), and the Université de Béjaïa, with support from WCS and Panthera.
The photographs were taken as part of the first systematic camera trap survey across the central Sahara, covering an area of 2,800 square kilometres (1,081 square miles).
Overall, the survey identified four different Saharan cheetahs--a subspecies of cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki)--using spot patterns unique to each individual.
"The Saharan cheetah is critically endangered, yet virtually nothing is known about the population, so this new evidence, and the ongoing research work, is hugely significant," said Dr Sarah Durant, Zoological Society of London Senior Research Fellow.
"This first camera-trap confirmation of cheetahs in Algeria is a landmark success toward our efforts to save these big cats," said Dr. James Deutsch, Director of WCS-Africa. "Findings like these help us refine our conservation strategies for the cheetah across its entire range."
Farid Belbachir, who is implementing the field survey, said that "This is an incredibly rare and elusive subspecies of cheetah and current population estimates, which stand at less than 250 mature individuals, are based on guesswork. This study is helping us to turn a corner in our understanding, providing us with information about population numbers, movement and ecology."
The Northwest African cheetah is found over the Sahara desert and savannas of North and West Africa, respectively, including Algeria, Niger, Mali, Benin, Burkina-Faso and Togo. The populations are very fragmented and small, with the biggest thought to be found in Algeria. The ongoing surveys in the region will also work with the local Tuareg pastoralist community to find out more about the ecology of the cheetah and identify threats to it.
Dr Luke Hunter, Panthera's Executive Director, said "This is very exciting news. The photos are the first new data on this endangered sub-species, which also represent months of hard work by a very talented Algerian scientist and his team. Panthera is delighted to support Farid as part of our Kaplan Graduate Awards Program"
The species as a whole has just been put on Appendix I on the Convention of Migratory Species, at the request of Algeria with support from other parties. This affords protection of the species from all signatory countries.
WCS supports cheetah conservation research in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, and has spearheaded priority setting efforts for the species across continental Africa. WCS also has worked to conserve Asiatic cheetahs in Iran since 2001 in cooperation with the Iranian Department of the Environment (DoE) and the Conservation of Asiatic Cheetah Project (CACP), which is funded by the United Nations Development Programme.
The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.