To investigate cheetah hunting behavior I have to watch cheetahs hunting. Since cheetahs hunt during the day, it is possible to record their hunts in great detail. I record aspects of their hunting behavior such as time spent stalking, chasing, eating, the density of prey around them, and the presence of other carnivores such as lions and hyenas. This means spending all day in a Landrover following cheetahs. I watch them hunt and play, but most of the time, I watch them sleep. Big cats spend a lot of time sleeping. Yep, it is a tough life.
My name is Anne Hilborn, I am a PhD student at Virginia Tech. I study cheetah hunting behavior in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania in collaboration with The Serengeti Cheetah Project which is a long term cheetah research project run by the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
My research focuses on predator prey interactions, specifically how large carnivores impact the way smaller carnivores interact with their prey. I am also interested in using social media to get people excited about ecology and conservation. In the future I'd like to be able to mix field research, teaching, and outreach. I want to expand our knowledge of predator prey interactions, and pass that knowledge on to students and the general public.
Cheetahs are facing a variety of human-caused threats in Eastern Africa, and preserving populations in protected areas like national parks offers one way to help save them.
There is a sizeable cheetah population in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, whose hunting behavior I study to understand how they interact with both their prey species like gazelles and larger carnivores like lions and spotted hyenas. Carnivores tend to have complicated relationships with one another and lions and hyenas are known to steal cheetah kills and are the leading cause of cheetah cub mortality. The need to avoid lions and hyenas while procuring food has the potential to shape where, how, and what cheetahs hunt. This in turn can determine how many prey cheetahs kill. By investigating their hunting behavior I hope to provide insights into how multiple carnivore species and their prey can coexist in protected areas.
By recording all their hunts (the successes, the near misses, the what-were-you-thinking utter failures), I hope to get a better understanding of how the relationship between cheetahs, more dominate predators, and prey density determines the amount of prey cheetahs kill. Although I am working on cheetahs I’d like to discover generalities with carnivores as a whole. Understanding how carnivores and their prey interact is important in understanding population dynamics and designing effective conservation actions.
Unless stated, all pictures are mine
Pic by Ulrike Hilborn