Project status

Our cheetah and wild dog conservation work

In Africa, space is in short supply. As human activities dominate the landscape, wild land is being broken up and ecosystems damaged.  

African wild dogs and cheetahs, need vast spaces to survive. But just a handful of protected areas are big enough for this pair of increasingly threatened species.  

The solution? African wild dogs and cheetahs need to share the landscape with people. Their survival depends on it. 

Today, fewer than 7,000 wild dogs and 10,000 cheetahs remain in Africa. More than half of these animals live alongside local people and their livestock.  

Much of the land they inhabit is dry, inhospitable and unsuited to growing crops. The local community that relies on these hostile ecosystems for grazing, bushmeat and water, are among the most impoverished and marginalised in the world. 

Cheetah and wild dog conservation, both inside and outside protected areas, must be approached sustainably. It’s critical to protect livestock from predators, reduce the threat of disease and improve tolerance of wild carnivores among local communities. There are few tried-and-tested methods for achieving these goals.  

The Samburu-Laikipia Wild Dog Project was established in 2001. It aimed to identify ways to allow wild dogs to survive in the human-dominated landscape. Over a decade, the project saw an eight-fold increase in the numbers of wild dogs in the area.  

African wild dog at ZSL London Zoo
A pair of African wild dogs standing together at Whipsnade Zoo

Kenya Rangelands Wild Dog and Cheetah Project

In 2014, we aimed to build on our success and expanded our work to include cheetahs. We renamed 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. It’s concerned with the sustainable co-existence 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 co-existence 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 

Cheetah and wild dog conservation key achievements and goals 

Over 15 years, our research has shown that wild dogs can share the landscape with people without major conflict.  

Traditional Masai and Samburu farming methods help make this possible. They provide an effective deterrent to wild dog attacks. And farmers set aside land for dry season grazing, which leaves space for wild dogs and their prey to survive.   


Wild dog community outreach programme 

In collaboration with the Zeitz Foundation, we’ve developed an outreach programme that uses theatre to share our research findings with local communities.  

Wild dog vaccination programme 

Infectious disease is the biggest killer of wild dogs in our study area. Rabies has wiped out whole packs.  

Our research shows that rabies exists in the local domestic dog population, and it occasionally passes to wild carnivores including wild dogs, hyaenas and jackals.  

To prevent this, we’ve partnered with colleagues at Mpala Research Centre to help vaccinate local domestic dogs, which protects people and their livestock as well as wild dogs. 

Cheetah and wild dog tracking 

Wild dogs and cheetahs will only survive if they have enough space. But as people build roads, fences, and villages, the landscape becomes more fragmented.  

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 critical habitats for cheetahs and wild dogs.  

With Global Positioning System (GPS) collars, we're tracking the movements of wild dogs and cheetahs. This helps us understand how the animals use the landscape and identify areas that form potential corridors and those that present barriers to movement. 

We’ve tracked some impressive movements. This includes a cheetah who travelled 870km in five months and a young wild dog who travelled over 500km in a month as she searched for a mate and a new territory. 

We work closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service and we 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



  • Kenya Wildlife Service, Zeitz Foundation, Mpala Research Centre, Smithsonian 



  • National Geographic Society, Kenya Wildlife Trust, (many more over the years) 


Further information 


2016 update

26th December 2016

The cheetah is sprinting towards the edge of extinction and could soon be lost forever unless urgent, landscape-wide conservation action is taken, according to a study published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Led by ZSL (Zoological Society of London), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Panthera, the study estimates that just 7,100 cheetahs remain globally, inhabiting a mere nine per cent of the species' historic range. Asiatic cheetah populations have been hit hardest, with fewer than 50 individuals remaining in one isolated pocket in Iran.

Due to the species' dramatic and ongoing decline, the study's authors are calling for the cheetah to be up-listed  from 'Vulnerable' to 'Endangered' on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In recognition of the threats it faces, wildlife in this category is given greater international conservation support, in efforts to stave off impending extinction.

Dr Sarah Durant, ZSL/WCS lead author and Project Leader for the Rangewide Conservation Program for Cheetah and African Wild Dog, said: "This study represents the most comprehensive analysis of cheetah status to date. Given the secretive nature of this elusive cat, it has been difficult to gather hard information on the species, leading to its plight being overlooked. Our findings show that the large space requirements for cheetah, coupled with the complex range of threats faced by the species in the wild, mean that it is likely to be much more vulnerable to extinction than was  previously thought.

"We have worked with range state governments and the cheetah conservation community to put in place comprehensive frameworks for action to save the species, but funds and resources are needed to implement them. The recent decisions made at the CITES CoP17 meeting in Johannesburg represent a significant breakthrough, particularly in terms of stemming the illegal flow of live cats trafficked out of the Horn of Africa region. However, concerted action is needed to reverse ongoing declines in the face of accelerating land use changes across the continent."

While renowned for its speed and spots, the degree of persecution cheetahs face both inside and outside of protected areas is largely unrecognised. Even within well-managed parks and reserves, cheetahs rarely escape the pervasive threats of human-wildlife conflict; prey loss due to overhunting by people; habitat loss; and the illegal trafficking of cheetah parts and trade as exotic pets.

To make matters worse, as one of the world's most wide-ranging carnivores, 77 per cent of the remaining cheetah habitat falls outside of protected areas. Unrestricted by boundaries, the species' wide-ranging movements make enforcement of protection particularly challenging and greatly amplifies its vulnerability to human impacts. In Zimbabwe, for example, these pressures have seen the cheetah population plummet from 1,200 to a maximum of 170 animals in just 16 years - representing an astonishing loss of 85 per cent of the country's cheetahs.   

Scientists are now calling for an urgent revolution in how we approach cheetah conservation, focused towards landscape-level efforts that transcend national borders and are coordinated by existing regional conservation strategies for the species. A holistic conservation approach, which incentivises protection of cheetahs by local communities and trans-national governments, alongside sustainable human-wildlife coexistence, is paramount to the survival of the species.

Panthera's Cheetah Programme Director, Dr Kim Young-Overton, shared: "We've just hit the reset button in our understanding of how close cheetahs are to extinction. The take-away from this pinnacle study is that securing protected areas alone is not enough. We must think bigger, conserving across the mosaic of protected and unprotected landscapes that these far-reaching cats inhabit, If we are to avert the otherwise certain loss of the cheetah forever."

The methodology used for this study will also be relevant to other species, such as African wild dogs, which also require large areas of land to prosper and are therefore similarly vulnerable to increasing threats outside designated protected areas.

Read the full study


Urgent action to stop the devastation of critical species and habitats by helping people and wildlife live better together, is the only way to save the natural world we love and depend upon. That’s where ZSL comes in, and where you can play your part.