Project status: In progress

The current classification of the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is Vulnerable, VU C2a(i). This classification means that it is considered to have a high risk of extinction in the wild, that the estimated population is fewer than 10,000 mature cheetahs and that there is a continuing decline in the numbers of mature cheetahs.

Cheetah conservation organisations in southern Africa face the daunting task of ensuring the long-term viability of wild cheetah populations. In South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia, relocation is one of several methods used to conserve cheetahs. This involves trapping cheetahs that are perceived by landowners to be problem animals and releasing them into other areas. Another key challenge for the conservation organisations is to educate the local community about the importance of preserving this endangered species.

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 Cheetah Bayesian Network Project

Researchers meet with cheetah conservationists in South Africa.

To meet these challenges, QUT organised workshops with cheetah conservationists from Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. The workshops used Bayesian Networks (BNs) to model cheetah conservation issues and to represent current expert knowledge. BNs are popular for initial modelling of complex and multi-faceted environmental issues such as predator relocations, wild population viability and human-predator conflict.

A BN is a mathematical model that consists of a graphical depiction of variables and a probabilistic framework describing the strength of the relationships between the variables. BNs are a useful statistical tool for collating, organising and formalising information such as data, model outputs, secondary sources and expert knowledge about the issue of concern. They have been used in very diverse applications, such as forensic science and toxic algal bloom initiation. They are a form of directed acyclic graph, comprising a set of factors linked through directed arrows to a target node. The network is quantified through a series of conditional probabilities for each of the key variables in the network.

The benefit of BNs in cheetah conservation is that they equip conservationists with a powerful communication tool in their negotiations with land and livestock owners, governmental departments, and other cheetah conservation organisations. Effective communication and directed research are the keys to the long-term survival of cheetahs in southern Africa.