Kafue National Park: A Cheetah Kingdom

By Patricia Kayula and Xia Stevens
Kafue Lion Monitoring Coordinator; SMART Program Coordinator

King the cheetah

Zambia’s Greater Kafue Ecosystem, with Kafue National Park at its core, is a kingdom for wild cats. Part of the KAZA TFCA (Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area), the Greater Kafue Ecosystem is a critical habitat for three species of big cats — lions, leopards and cheetahs. Panthera, together with the Zambian Carnivore Programme and Musekese Conservation, study and support the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), Zambia’s statutory authority to protect big cats and other wildlife in the ecosystem. With their support, DNPW confiscates deadly wire snares, reduces poaching and focuses on human-wildlife conflict mitigation techniques with local communities.

King image 1

In southern Kafue, Panthera has focused recent efforts on the smallest of the three African big cat species — the cheetah. This fall, we had an exciting development. We fitted a cheetah, the male of a brother and sister pair, with a satellite collar in southern Kafue — for the first time ever in this part of the system. Now, every 2nd or 3rd day, we are learning more and more about his life and movements. This is critical knowledge — cheetahs have the lowest numbers of any big cat in Africa but range over the largest area.

King and his sister
king and his sister.

We named the collared male “King,” after our new Panthera veterinarian, Dr. King Chidakwa. Each step taken by King provides us with new information. Currently, King and his sister are just under two years old, and soon after the collaring, they went their separate ways, each heading into unknown territory. Since they split from each other, King has made an incredible journey; passing over the Musa River, he moved south into the Nanzhila Plains, a vast area of southern Kafue. And then, he ventured even further into the Sichifulo Game Management Area, nimbly moving out of Kafue National Park to become a true KAZA cheetah.

Collaring King
Dr. Chidakwa and xia stevens collaring king.

As King initially moved into areas that may not be as well protected as Kafue National Park, our satellite tracking collar helped us protect him. We monitored King’s movement patterns to check for anything unusual. This technology helped prevent a number of threats from taking their toll on King. When he moved through the Sichifulo Game Management Area, where Panthera supports resource protection efforts, we surrounded him with our “Halo Protection Approach.” We made sure the areas he wandered through were free from deadly snares that maim and kill wildlife including big cats. We also ensured that he received extra protection from foot patrols. When he moved into new community areas, we alerted communities to his presence and fostered coexistence through community conservation activities, including our wildlife credits program. This program rewards communities for having big cats and their prey wander unharmed through their homelands. As King wanders back and forth from where we collared him, our goal is to make sure he remains safe from poaching and human-wildlife conflict. With an eye on him at all times, we can do our best to make this possible. And now, as he has made his way back to the protected area near where he was collared, our hard work has come full circle.

King image 2

Cheetahs are threatened all over Africa. But by following King’s movements, we can better understand cheetah connectivity pathways across the KAZA, an important step in this species’ conservation future. Along the banks of Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, his footprints make ripples for cheetah conservation. As cheetahs like King go on to establish their own kingdoms, satellite tracking collars help us to best be their watchful, loyal subjects.

Read The Nature Conservancy's coverage of this story.