Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 647–663 | Cite as

Carnivore conservation under land use change: the status of Zimbabwe’s cheetah population after land reform

  • Esther van der Meer
Original Paper


Large terrestrial carnivores especially have experienced substantial declines in range and numbers. Changes in land use are a main driver of such declines, yet various developing countries have accelerated land use change through state-led land reform programmes. One of the most renowned land reform programmes is Zimbabwe’s fast track land reform programme (FTLRP), which resulted in fast and compulsory subdivision of large commercial farms into indigenized small scale commercial and subsistence farms. Several case studies have shown an impact of the FTLRP on wildlife, however, its effect on wildlife populations at a nationwide scale remains largely unknown. Due to its wide-ranging nature, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is particularly vulnerable to changes in land use. In this study I used questionnaire survey and citizen science data to determine the population status and distribution of the cheetah 15 years after introduction of the FTLRP. I also assessed the level of human-cheetah conflict, and attitudes of commercial and subsistence farmers towards cheetah. I found dramatic range contractions and population declines, particularly in the landscape outside protected areas. Despite minimal conflict, subsistence farmers were less tolerant to cheetah than commercial farmers. Consequently, land reform is likely to have increased the hostility of the cheetah landscape outside protected areas. This study is one of the most comprehensive species assessments to date. It provides valuable empirical data on the implications of land use change and emphasizes how a lack of knowledge impedes our ability to recognize a species vulnerability to (local) extinction risk.


Acinonyx jubatus Species assessment Range contraction Large carnivores Population decline Human encroachment Human wildlife conflict Biodiversity loss 



The Zimbabwe Research Council, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Ministry of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development are kindly acknowledged for providing the necessary permits to carry out this research. I thank H. Dullemont, M. Badza, C. Mapendere, S. Mpansi, H. Ndlovu and A. Goronga for their assistance with the field work. I am very grateful to the 1209 respondents and many citizen scientists who provided cheetah information. This work was supported by grants from Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, INNO Fund, National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative, Panthera, Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, Stichting SPOTS, Stichting Wildlife, The Rufford Foundation, Van Tienhoven Foundation and Wilderness Wildlife Trust.

Supplementary material

10531_2017_1455_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (632 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 631 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cheetah Conservation Project ZimbabweVictoria FallsZimbabwe
  2. 2.Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife ManagementNational University of Science and TechnologyBulawayoZimbabwe

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