The story behind the first documented cheetah in Sibiloi by an international team

Three photographs, an unfinished story.

   It has always been said that science is a matter of patience. This story is a clear example of it.  Almost a year ago, in April 2017, the Global Change and Conservation (GCC) team carried out an interdisciplinary study in Sibiloi National Park, northern Kenya. Among all the interlinked projects, one of them worked with camera traps. Several camera traps were located in different areas to increase the lacking knowledge of current species living in Sibiloi. At times, working with camera traps can be uncertain, cameras not working and not recording anything, cameras being places wrongly and cameras vanishing from where you have placed them.

Camera traps ready for fieldwork.
Camera traps ready for fieldwork.

Sadly, the story started with the GCC team experiencing the disappearance of two camera traps. The team reported the equipment missing to the Kenya Wildlife Service, responsible for the security of the park.  The report was more for the upcoming future work than for the chances to recover the missing cameras. The project had planned a long-term study with an increasing number of camera traps. Therefore, the loss of two camera traps during the first testing was not a good signal.

One year pass by and the GCC team came back to Sibiloi National Park to carry on the long-term multidisciplinary study. During one of the busy fieldwork days and for our surprise, we received one camera trap and a single memory card. They were reported missing one year ago! Finally and unexpectedly, we got them back but… How did they recover them? Why there was a single memory card without the camera trap? These are questions that we still do not know the answer and perhaps we will never know.

Surprisingly, it was not until later at night when we decided to have a look at the memory cards. Checking for possible photographed species by these old-missing camera traps…

Almost one year later, an amazing surprise was waiting for us, a cheetah was photographed by one of the disappeared camera traps! The first ever recorded photograph of a cheetah in Sibiloi National Park.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, especially due to habitat loss and fragmentation. In addition, cheetahs are killed by farmers in retaliation for livestock attacks.

Moreover, when having a closer look at the picture, we realized that the photographed cheetah is carrying a prey, but what is it? Is it a livestock? Is it a wildlife species? By increasing the image we recognised the prey was a grant gazelle!

Excitingly, this specific camera trap was recording for only 6 hours before it was taken away. Nevertheless, from these 6 hours, we discovered an interesting sequence of fewer than 4 hours. The first three pictures of the camera trap were:

06/04/2018 – 06:39:12 – Camera trap placed by one of the researchers.

06/04/2018 – 07:39:35 – Cheetah carrying a grant gazelle.

06/04/2018 – 10:12:31 – Livestock grazing in the area.

This sequence of photographs taken in less than four hours hides interesting questions behind. What do carnivores feed on in Sibiloi? Do carnivores survive by killing wildlife, livestock or both?

This story, as this long-term project, has not yet an end. Further research needs to be done to elucidate these important questions. In addition, patience with the work done has been shown to be rewarded, sometimes one year later and sometimes even longer…

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