Ethical code of conduct
There are two reasons for CCPZ to collar cheetahs:
1) If from a conservation point of view, the species and/or an individual animal is under such threat that there is a need to be able to follow its movements in order to protect it from human induced (potentially lethal) dangers.
2) If there is a need to answer an important research question. We only collar animals for scientific purposes when we feel that the benefits of the research outweigh the harm (i.e. pain, distress, suffering, behavioural disturbance and interference) done to the animal. In other words, the harm the animal is likely to experience by being captured and collared needs to be outweighed by the importance of the research question for the species and/or its environment.
Within our decision process we make use of the 3R's principle (a widely accepted method to reduce the costs, both in terms of finances and harm done to the animals, associated with animal research) (Russell and Burch, 1959):
Replacement - animals should not be used if the same research can be achieved in other ways (e.g. use camera traps instead of collaring animals)
Reduction - the number of animals used in the research is kept to the minimal number necessary to answer the research question without reducing the number to so few that the results become statistically invalid
Refinement - the pain, distress or suffering imposed on every individual animal used is reduced to an absolute minimum
We only collar cheetahs in areas where we are present on the ground. This way we can keep track of collared animals and are able to detect if the collar interferes with the animals behaviour or reduces the animals condition. If interference occurs, the collar is removed from the animal. Collars are also removed upon termination of the research or when a collar accidentally fails prior to termination of the research. Collars are preferentially removed via the use of a drop off device so the animal doesn't need to be immobilized again.
Russell, W.M.S. and Burch, R.L. (1959). The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique. Methuen & Co Ltd., London, UK.
Although we acknowledge that meeting an ambassador cheetah can positively affect people's attitude towards the species, we do not work with ambassador cheetahs. The main reason being that we feel ambassador cheetahs, when presented as tame animals that are habituated to direct contact with humans, can give people the (wrong) impression that cheetahs are pets. Cheetahs are not pets, cheetahs are wild animals. Unfortunately, each year a large number of cheetahs is illegally taken from the wild to supply a demand for exotic pets. Many of them are small cubs, because they are easier to handle and tame. Often these animals die in transit and there is a growing concern that the trade in live cheetahs impacts the survival of the East African cheetah population. So in order to make sure it is absolutely clear to everyone that cheetahs are not pets, we don't work with ambassador cheetahs.
How to decide which collar to use?
When choosing which collar to use we take the weight, size and shape of the device relative to the cheetahs body weight, size and shape, and the effects this might have on behaviour or possible suffering during and subsequent to deployment, into account. Within a reasonable weight range, the weight of a collar is traded off with its lifespan, the heavier the collar the larger the battery pack and the longer the lifespan of the collar. We try to balance life span and weight in such a way that we keep the weight to a minimum within the minimal lifespan necessary to answer the research question with enough statistically valid data.