Cheetah Marking Trees on Ongava
Namibia is well known for harbouring about 25% of the remaining global cheetah population. Given the healthy lion and spotted hyaena populations on Ongava, however, cheetahs face a hard time here and occur only in small numbers. All the more surprising is, therefore, that we found two cheetah marking trees in the Sonop plains area. Cheetahs use these trees as a social communications network, a feline Facebook of sorts. Male cheetahs regularly patrol and mark the trees, either by scratching, scent marking or defecation, thus staking their claim to an area. Females, on the other hand, use the trees to advertise when they are in heat. Supporting recent sightings of a female with two cubs, the Shepherd’s trees at Sonop show that the reserve currently is home to a resident male too, or a coalition of several males. Both trees have been scratched and marked multiple times (see image). But cheetahs are picky and not just any one tree will do. Marking trees need to provide comfortable access, shade, and a good view of the surrounds. Camera traps will reveal how many cheetahs use the trees and roam the reserve.