Kenya Rangelands Wild Dog and Cheetah Project

African Wild Dogs - Borana Pup Begging

Africa is becoming crowded. Its last wild landscapes are being broken up, and its ecosystems are becoming damaged. Two species, African wild dog and the cheetah, are symbols of Africa’s remaining wilderness. They, more than any other of Africa’s large carnivores, need space to survive. Vast areas are the only hope for these species to persist in the long term. But space on this scale is in short supply: only a handful of protected areas are big enough for these two increasingly threatened species. Instead, the survival of cheetahs and wild dogs will depend upon sharing the landscape with people. 

Today, fewer than 7,000 wild dogs and 10,000 cheetahs are thought to remain in Africa. More than half of these animals live outside parks, alongside local people and their livestock. Much of the land they inhabit is dry and inhospitable, unsuited to growing crops. Local people, who rely upon these hostile ecosystems for grazing, bushmeat, and water, are among the most impoverished and marginalised in the world.

In Kenya, as elsewhere, a sustainable approach to conserving wild dogs and cheetahs, both inside and outside protected areas, demands protecting livestock from depredation, reducing disease threats, and improving local tolerance for wild carnivores. Unfortunately, there are few tried-and-tested methods for achieving these objectives. The Samburu-Laikipia Wild Dog Project, established in 2001, sought to identify a combination of traditional livestock management, conservation of wild prey, disease management and local outreach which could allow wild dogs to persist in a human-dominated landscape. Over the course of a decade, the project witnessed an eight-fold increase in the numbers of wild dogs in the project area.  In 2014, we sought to build on this success by expanding our work to include cheetahs, renaming the project the Kenya Rangelands Wild Dog and Cheetah Project.

Our work in the field

The project operates entirely outside protected areas, on private and community lands in Laikipia, Samburu and Isiolo counties in northern Kenya. The project is concerned with the sustainable coexistence of African wild dogs and cheetahs with local people and their domestic animals. The project has four main objectives:

  • To develop sustainable tools to foster coexistence of wild dogs and cheetahs with people and livestock
  • To understand infectious disease risks to wild dogs and cheetahs and to develop sustainable tools to manage disease threats where appropriate
  • To promote landscape connectivity for wild dogs and cheetahs by identifying corridors and other landscape linkages
  • To extend techniques developed in northern Kenya to other cheetah and wild dog populations

Key Achievements & Goals

In the 15 years since our wild dog research started, we have shown that wild dogs can share the landscape with people, without major conflict. Traditional Masai and Samburu livestock husbandry is very effective at deterring wild dogs from attacking. Just as important, these pastoralists’ traditional land use planning – which sets aside some land for dry season grazing – leaves space for wild dogs and their prey to survive. Working with the Zeitz Foundation, we have developed a community outreach programme which uses theatre to share our research findings with local communities. Hopefully we shall soon have some similar insights from our recently-commenced cheetah research.

Perhaps surprisingly, infectious disease is the biggest killer of wild dogs in our study area, with rabies occasionally wiping out whole packs. Through careful study, we have found that this infection is persisting in the local domestic dog population, spilling over only occasionally into wild carnivores including wild dogs, hyaenas and jackals. For this reason, we’re excited to partner with colleagues at Mpala Research Centre to help vaccinate local domestic dogs, protecting people and their livestock as well as wild dogs.

Both wild dogs and cheetahs will survive only if they have enough space – but landscapes become fragmented as people build roads, fences, and villages. Worse still, Laikipia’s wilderness is threatened by plans to build a power line, an oil pipeline, and a major dam, all of which are likely to degrade or destroy habitat which is crucial for cheetahs and wild dogs. By using GPS tracking collars, we are trying to understand which landscape features channel wild dog and cheetah movement, forming potential corridors, and which present barriers to movement. We have already tracked some impressive movements, including a cheetah which travelled 870km in five months as he ranged around the study area, and a young wild dog who travelled over 500km in a month as she searched for a mate and a new territory.

As well as working closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service, we are able to share our findings with those responsible for cheetah and wild dog conservation throughout Africa, through our close association with ZSL’s Rangewide Conservation Programme for Cheetahs and African Wild Dogs.

Project Information

Key species

  • African Wild Dog - endangered
  • Cheetah - vulnerable

People involved

Project Leader:

Institute of Zoology PhD Students:

Partners and sponsors

  • Partners: Kenya Wildlife Service, Zeitz Foundation, Mpala Research Centre, Smithsonian
  • Sponsors: National Geographic Society, Kenya Wildlife Trust, (many more over the years)

Further information

Website -