The cheetah may be the world's fastest land animal, accelerating to high speeds in just a few steps, but within recent years the cheetahs of South Africa are battling the race for survival. To find remedies for this problem Peter Laver, a graduate student in fisheries and wildlife sciences in the College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech, is expanding current research on home ranges of the cheetah population located in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, Africa.
Laver is developing a proposal in which he will study the different aspects of the cheetah home ranges by analyzing data that has been collected over the past 25 years. "My goal is to examine the population of cheetahs as a whole, then break it down into male and female to study the differences and similarities," Laver explained.
"The cheetahs in the Serengeti have no specific territory," said his advisor Marcella Kelly, assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife sciences. "They follow movements of their prey along the plains. Mapping the location of cheetahs and analyzing home ranges of both related and unrelated cheetahs will help scientists better understand the cats' social arrangement and organization," said Kelly, a world expert in wild cat research.
Other issues of concern and interest include how much space the cheetahs need to live, the relationship between mother and offspring; their migration patterns; where cheetahs are located in relation to lions, who prey on cheetah cubs; and the local conservation problems.
Through the use of computer mapping skills and researching the available data, Laver hopes to conclude this study for his master's thesis by December 2004. "I hope to travel to the Serengeti this winter not only to get hands-on experience, but also to gather GPS (Global Positioning Systems) readings in order to correct the maps I currently use for research," Laver said, who will be collaborating with the head researcher for cheetah study at the Serengeti.
A native of South Africa, Laver came to Virginia Tech in 2001 as an exchange student and before becoming a graduate student, had worked with Kelly on an independent study to learn about the cheetahs and analyze Kelly's data. He received his bachelor's degree in forestry in 2002 from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
Cheetahs are predominately located in East Africa. They are also found in South Africa in protected areas and in Namibia in unprotected areas such as private farms, where they kill livestock and come into conflict with people. Only one species of cheetahs exists. They are very fast animals with small heads and thin bodies, and are third along the food chain in Africa, following lions and hyenas.
Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources has been recognized by peers as among the top five. Areas of studies include environmental resource management; fisheries and wildlife sciences; forestry; geospatial and environmental analysis; natural resource recreation; urban forestry; wood science and forest products; geography; and international development.
Written by Meredith Long, Public Affairs Intern