Moving Cheetahs out of Danger

A cheetah released into its new home. Photo Naankuse Foundation

By Florian Weise,  N/a’an ku sê Carnivore Conservation Research Project, Namibia and National Geographic Big Cats Initiative grantee.


Last week a livestock farmer called to report a cheetah caught in a trap. He won’t release the animal on site — it will kill his livestock. But knowing about the species’ imperiled status he does not want to shoot the animal either.

This happens to me often in Namibia and across other areas in southern Africa too. But options are there? One could put the animal into a captive facility and use it for tourism. This is hardly a desirable outcome, especially when considering that hundreds of cheetahs are trapped every year.

Secondly, one may try to relocate the cheetah to a suitable conservation area to maintain the animal as part of a free-ranging breeding population. Sounds good? Well, the latter approach has often been carried out, but just as often has been heavily criticized. We just don’t know how much such relocations cost.

To address this situation, my colleagues and I at the N/a’an ku sê Carnivore Conservation Research Project in Namibia, have now published the first detailed and case-specific relocation cost account for cheetah, leopard and brown hyena. It will help managers make better-informed conservation decisions in the future.

Cheetah with collar. Photo Claudia Mulzer
Cheetah with collar. Photo Claudia Mulzer

The open access article is called “Financial Costs of Large Carnivore Translocations – Accounting for Conservation” and by clicking ——> here <‑‑ is freely available.   The work that led to this publication is supported by the Big Cats Initiative in order to appease conflicts between farmers and the iconic big cats.

Our study shows, for example, that a single successful cheetah relocation will cost us nearly 7,000 USD, a hefty price indeed and substantially more than a successful leopard at about 3,000 USD. Most of the money went into monitoring the outcomes of relocations and although this may sound very expensive, it is not when compared to other methods used to protect cheetahs in the wild. We also argue that money spent on relocations should be used for threatened species and individuals and those with the highest chance of success. As a society we have to come to terms with the fact that there are no cheap ways out in conservation.


Leopard with collar. Photo Tanja Laschinger
Leopard with collar. Photo Tanja Laschinger


Changing Planet

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Meet the Author
Stuart Pimm is the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He is a world leader in the study of present day extinctions and what we can do to prevent them. Pimm received his BSc degree from Oxford University in 1971 and his Ph.D from New Mexico State University in 1974. Pimm is the author of nearly 300 scientific papers and four books. He is one of the most highly cited environmental scientists. Pimm wrote the highly acclaimed assessment of the human impact to the planet: The World According to Pimm: a Scientist Audits the Earth in 2001. His commitment to the interface between science and policy has led to his testimony to both House and Senate Committees on the re-authorization of the Endangered Species Act. He has served on National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration and currently works with their Big Cats Initiative. In addition to his studies in Africa, Pimm has worked in the wet forests of Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil for decades and is a long-term collaborator of the forest fragmentation project north of Manaus, Brazil. Pimm directs SavingSpecies, a 501c3 non-profit that uses funds for carbon emissions offsets to fund local conservation groups to restore degraded lands in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity. His international honours include the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010), the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006).