Evidence-based solutions for the farmer-cheetah conflict in Namibia

Conflicts between humans, their livestock and carnivores are globally widespread. Developing sustainable solutions is challenging, particularly for threatened carnivore species. We demonstrate with the example of cheetahs in Namibia how detailed information on spatial movements of cheetahs can be used by farmers to adapt their cattle management. This results in substantial decrease of cattle losses and thus in reduced killing of cheetahs by farmers.

Project details
Duration: since 11/2001
Third-party funded: yes
Involved Department(s): Dept Evolutionary Ecology
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s): Bettina Wachter (Dept Evolutionary Ecology)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team: Jörg Melzheimer, Rubén Portas, Rebekka Müller, Ralf Röder (all: Dept Evolutionary Ecology)
Consortium Partner(s): -
Current Funding Organisation: Messerli Foundation
Research Foci:
Understanding the environmental context
Improving population viability
Developing theories, methods, and tools


Today, there are approximately 7000 free-ranging cheetahs living in Africa with the largest population occurring in Namibia. The majority of this population lives on privately owned farmland and not in protected areas. On farmland, this threatened felid species comes into regular conflict with cattle farmers. Cheetahs sometimes prey on livestock and farmers kill them to protect their cattle.

This project investigates the movement and feeding ecology of cheetahs in the context of human-wildlife conflicts. We detected that cheetahs have a unique socio-spatial organization:  some males occupy territories which function as communication hubs and which are used by them, as well as by non-territorial males and females for information transfer. In these communication hubs there is a high local density of cheetahs which results in a high predation risk for livestock.

Based on this discovery, we developed a management scheme in close collaboration with the farmers to identify safe and unsafe areas for breeding herds. This reduced livestock predation by cheetahs substantially, and consequently also decreased the unwanted killing of cheetahs by farmers. Our investigations on diet composition based on faecal analyses and stable isotope analyses of tissue samples revealed that cheetahs are opportunistic hunters that feed mainly on wildlife species and do not specialize on particular prey species.

Additionally, we use camera traps to determine abundances and densities of cheetahs in the various biomes in Namibia to provide a reliable population estimate. An essential component of the project is the involvement of the farmers as important partners into the planning of the subprojects and an open communication of the research results to the farmers. In regular expert panels we also import our research results into politics, for example at the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, where our results are used for conservation decisions. Additional important partners are the two Namibian universities from which we regularly recruit students.

Selected Publications

Melzheimer J, Heinrich SK, Wasiolka B, Mueller R, Thalwitzer S, Palmegiani I, Weigold A, Portas R, Roeder R, Krofel M, Hofer H, Wachter B (2020). Communication hubs of an asocial cat are the source of a human–carnivore conflict and key to its solution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(52), 33325-33333.

Hofman MPG, Hayward MW, Heim M, Marchand P, Rolandsen CM, Mattisson J, Urbano F, Heurich M, Mysterud A, Melzheimer J, Morellet N, Voigt U, Allen BL, Gehr B, Rouco C, Ullmann W, Holand Ø, Jørgensen NH, Steinheim G, Cagnacci F, Kroeschel M, Kaczensky P, Buuveibaatar B, Payne JC, Palmegiani I, Jerina K, Kjellander P, Johansson Ö, LaPoint S, Bayrakcismith R, Linnell JDC, Zaccaroni M, Jorge MLS, Oshima JEF, Songhurst A, Fischer C, Mc Bride RT Jr., Thompson JJ, Streif S, Sandfort R, Bonenfant C, Drouilly M, Klapproth M, Zinner D, Yarnell R, Stronza A, Wilmott L, Meisingset E, Thaker M, Vanak AT, Nicoloso S, Graeber R, Said S, Boudreau MR, Devlin A, Hoogesteijn R, May-Junior JA, Nifong JC, Odden J, Quigley HB, Tortato F, Parker DM, Caso A, Perrine J, Tellaeche C, Zieba F, Zwijacz-Kozica T, Appel CL, Axsom I, Bean WT, Cristescu B, Périquet S, Teichman KJ, Karpanty S, Licoppe A, Menges V, Black K, Scheppers TL, Schai-Braun SC, Azevedo FC, Lemos FG, Payne A, Swanepoel LH, Weckworth BV, Berger A, Bertassoni A, McCulloch G, Šustr P, Athreya V, Bockmuhl D, Casaer J, Ekori A, Melovski D,  Richard-Hansen C, van de Vyver D, Reyna-Hurtado R, Robardet E, Selva N, Sergiel A, Farhadinia MS, Sunde P, Portas R, Ambarli H, Berzins R, Kappeler PM, Mann GK, Pyritz L, Bissett C, Grant T, Steinmetz R, Swedell L, Welch RJ, Armenteras D, Bidder OR, González TM, Rosenblatt A, Kachel S, Balkenhol N (2019): Right on track? Performance of satellite telemetry in terrestrial wildlife research. PLOS ONE 14,  e0216223.

Edwards S, Fischer M, Wachter B, Melzheimer J (2018): Coping with intrasexual behavioural differences: Capture-recapture abundance estimation of male cheetah. ECOL EVOL 8, 9171-9180. doi:10.1002/ece3.4410.

Frigerio D, Pipek P, Kimmig S, Winter S, Melzheimer J, Diblíková L, Wachter B, Richter A (2018): Citizen Science and wildlife biology: Synergies and challenges. ETHOLOGY. doi:10.1111/eth12746.

Melzheimer J, Streif S, Wasiolka B, Fischer M, Thalwitzer S, Heinrich S, Weigold K, Hofer H, Wachter B (2018): Queuing, take-overs, and becoming a fat cat: Long-term data reveal two distinct male spatial tactics at different life-history stages in Namibian cheetahs. ECOSPHERE 9, e02308. doi:10.1002/ecs2.2308.

Durant SM, Mitchell N, Groom R, Pettorelli N, Ipavec A, Jacobson AP, Woodroffe R, Böhm M, Hunter LTB, Becker MS, Broekhuis F, Bashir S, Andresen L, Aschenborn O, Beddiaf M, Belbachir F, Belbachir-Basi A, Berbash A, Brandao de Matos Machado I, Breitenmoser C, Chege M, Cilliers D, Davies-Mostert H, Dickman AJ, Ezekiel F, Farhadinia FS, Funston P, Henschel P, Horgan J, de Iongh HH, Jowkar H, Klein R, Lindsey PA, Marker L, Marnewick K, Melzheimer J, Merkle J, M’soka J, Msuha M, O’Neill H, Parker M, Purchse G, Sahailou S, Saidu Y, Samna A, Schmidt-Küntzel A, Selebatso E, Sogbohossou EA, Soultan A, Stone E, van der Meer E, van Vuuren R, Wykstra M, Young-Overton K (2017): The global decline of cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and what it means for conservation. PROC NATL ACAD SCI USA 114, 528-53. doi:10.1073/pnas.1611122114.

Potgieter GC, Weise FJ, Wachter B, Melzheimer J, Wiesel I, Stratford K (2017): Comment on Rust et al.: Human-carnivore conflict in Namibia is not simply about black and white. SOC NAT RESOUR. doi:10.1080/08941920.2017.1283077.

Weise FJ, Vijay V, Jacobson AP, Schoonover RF, Groom RJ, Horgan J, Keeping D, Klein R, Marnewick K, Maude G, Melzheimer J, Mills G, van der Merwe V, van der Meer E, van Vuuren RJ, Wachter B, Pimm SL (2017): The distribution and numbers of cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) in southern Africa. PEERJ 5, e4096. doi:10.7717/peerj.4096.

Voigt CC, Thalwitzer S, Melzheimer J, Blanc A-S, Jago M, Wachter B (2014): The conflict between cheetahs and humans on Namibian farmland elucidated by stable isotope diet analysis. PLOS ONE 9, e101917. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101918.

Johnson S, Marker L, Mengersen K, Gordon CH, Melzheimer J, Schmidt-Küntzel A, Nghikembua M, Fabiano E, Henghali J, Wachter B (2013): Modelling the viability of the free-ranging cheetah population in Namibia - an Object Oriented Bayesian Network Approach. ECOSPHERE 4, 90. doi:10.1890/ES12-00357.1.

Voigt CC, Melzheimer J, Thalwitzer S, Wachter B (2013): A breath test to assign carnivore diets to browsers or grazers. WILDLIFE BIOL 19, 311-316. doi:10.2981/13-012.

Wachter B, Blanc A-S, Melzheimer J, Höner OP, Jago M, Hofer H (2012): An advanced method to assess the diet of free-ranging large carnivores based on scats. PLOS ONE 7, e38066. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038066.