Spoor density as a measure of true density of a known population of free-ranging wild cheetah in Botswana


  • Editor: Andrew Kitchener

AnnMarie Houser, Cheetah Conservation Botswana, Private Bag 0457, Gaborone, Botswana.
Email: amhouser3@yahoo.com


Knowledge of the abundance of animal populations is essential for their management and conservation. Determining reliable measures of abundance is, however, difficult, especially with wide-ranging species such as cheetah Acinonyx jubatus. This study generated a correction factor to calculate true cheetah density from spoor survey data and subsequently tested its accuracy using the following season's data. Data were collected from October 2005 to December 2006 on a known population of wild, free-ranging cheetah in the Jwana Game Reserve, Botswana. The cheetahs in the area were captured, tagged and photographed. The reserve was divided into twelve 9 km transects covering all vegetation types and prey densities. The total sampling distance was 8226 km, with a spoor density of 2.32 individual cheetah spoor per 100 km2. To determine a precise and accurate spoor density, it was necessary to sample for a longer period during the dry season (April–September) than during the wet season (October–March). This difference may be due to cheetah behavioural changes with seasonal variations in habitat and prey. The true density was 5.23 cheetahs  per 100 km2 ranging from 3.33 to 7.78 at the low and high points of the population, respectively. A positive linear correlation between spoor and true density was observed. This relationship differed in the wet and dry season and required refinement with the following season's data. Correction factors may be viable, but require further testing taking the behavioural responses to seasonal, habitat and prey variations into consideration.