Evaluation of spoor tracking to monitor cheetah abundance in central northern Namibia.
Fabiano, Ezequiel Chimbioputo.
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The design, implementation, management and the evaluation of sound conservation practices, is often dependent on the availability of reliable estimates of animal abundance. Large carnivores often pose particular problems in this regard, due to their low densities and wide-ranging behaviour, so the true abundance of such species are seldom able to be reported in literature . As a result, the use of indices of abundance, mostly for relative abundance, has been investigated. However, before these indices can be reliably utilized for conservation purposes , there is a pressing need to calibrate them. As of yet, calibration studies have primarily been performed on demarcated conservation areas, where individuals could be individually identified. Not all these calibrations studies reported indices to be a function of true density. Nevertheless , spoor frequency has been reported to be a function of true density for carnivores in certain Parks in Namibia . Precisely , cheetah spoor density was reported to correlate with visuals in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The majority of these studies elucidate a species spatial organization, animal behaviour, as the paramount factor determining the relationship between densities estimated via different censusing methods. Thus, the efficiency of spoor frequency to estimate and monitor relative abundance for wild cheetahs is yet to be empirically tested . Despite the lack of a true density estimate for the free-ranging cheetahs in the study area, evaluated spoor tracking as a possible index to monitor relative cheetah abundance using radiotelemetry densities estimates as representative of true abundance for the area, for the 1995 to 2000 period. The study is considered to be opportunistic , and a pillar for future research, as transects where spoor tracking was conducted were layout primarily for ungulates strip counts. Least-linear regression and Spearman's correlation were used to evaluate the relationship between density estimates derived by the two methods. Percentages of change on annual densities were also regressed as a mean to test spoor frequency sensitivity to density changes. The calibration of spoor frequency with estimates of density produced using radio-telemetry, without the ascription of imprints to individual animals, was poor (rs=17.4, y=0.36+0.20). The sensitivity analysis also showed spoor tracking poor reliability to monitor cheetah population. This can be attributed, in order of importance, to the discrepancies on the spatial extent sampled by the two methods, the species large home ranges, substrate quality , habitat preferences, the availability of farm road networks and the transect design, i.e., cyclic. However, the paramount factor limiting the study conclusions was the lack of a more local density estimate at a farm level. Therefore, the use of spoor frequency to estimate wild cheetah relative abundance requires further research, particularly using a different sampling design, longer straight transects and the acquisition of local densities estimates.
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