Recruitment is a critical parameter governing population dynamics and influences population persistence. Understanding the drivers of recruitment is therefore important for conservation, especially for long-lived mammals such as large carnivores, which have low reproductive rates, rendering them prone to extinction. Using cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) as a model species, I investigated the variation in cub recruitment in relation to habitat and the abundance of tourists and predators. Per litter, female cheetahs on average raised 1.71 ± 1.35 cubs to independence, but this varied depending on the presence of open habitat and the abundance of tourists, both of which had a negative effect on cub recruitment. More specifically, female cheetahs that were mostly found in open habitats on average raised 1.69 ± 0.14 cubs per litter to independence compared to 3.04 ± 0.26 cubs in denser habitat. Similarly, female cheetahs that were exposed to high tourist abundance on average raised 0.21 ± 0.72 cubs to independence compared to 2.32 ± 0.11 cubs in low tourism areas. Neither lion nor spotted hyaena abundance had an impact on the number of cubs that were recruited. Based on these findings, I recommend that the importance of a heterogeneous environment should be taken into consideration in habitat management, restoration efforts, and reintroduction programs. In addition, tourist quotas should be put in place in high visitation areas and strict wildlife viewing guidelines, such as number of vehicles, tourist behavior, time spent, and distance to a sighting, should be enforced. Cub recruitment is an important component of species persistence and incorporating these findings could aid conservation efforts for species that are increasingly under threat.
- cub recruitment