[Federal Register: July 28, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 146)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 46391-46398]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: 12-Month Finding 
on Petition To Reclassify the Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) in the 
Republic of Namibia From Endangered to Threatened

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: 12-month finding on petition.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
12-month finding on a petition to reclassify the cheetah (Acinonyx 
jubatus) population of Namibia from endangered to threatened. We have 
determined that the petitioned action is not warranted because 
available information is inadequate to determine that the factors that 
caused the cheetah to become endangered have been reduced sufficiently. 
Specifically, the lack of reliable, long-term population estimates for 
cheetah in Namibia make it impossible to determine whether the 
population is of adequate size to withstand most natural catastrophes 
or whether the population is increasing, decreasing, or stable. Such 
population trend information is necessary to determine the extent to 
which the substantial regulatory mechanisms initiated by the Government 
of Namibia are reducing the killing of cheetahs by Namibian farmers. 
This killing has been an important mortality factor for cheetahs in 
Namibia over the past three decades.

DATES: The 12-month finding was made on June 28, 2000.

ADDRESSES: If you have any questions about this decision, you may send 
correspondence or questions to the Chief, Office of Scientific 
Authority; Mail Stop: Room 750, Arlington Square; U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service; Washington, DC 20240 (Fax number: 703-358-2276; E-
mail address: r9osa@fws.gov). Express and messenger deliveries should 
be addressed to Chief, Office of Scientific Authority, Room 750; U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 North Fairfax Drive; Arlington, 
Virginia 22203.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dr. Susan Lieberman, Chief, Office of 
Scientific Authority (Telephone number: 703-358-1708; Fax number: 703-
358-2276; E-mail address: r9osa@fws.gov) or Dr. Kurt A. Johnson, Office 
of Scientific Authority (same telephone and fax numbers as above; E-
mail address: kurt_johnson@fws.gov).



    On August, 11, 1995, the Service received a petition from the 
government of the Republic of Namibia and Safari Club International 
requesting that the Namibian population of the cheetah (Acinonyx 
jubatus) be reclassified from endangered to threatened under the 
Endangered Species Act (Act) of 1973 as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.). The petition gives three reasons for requesting the 
reclassification of the cheetah in Namibia: (1) The original listing of 
the Namibian cheetah population was in error; (2) the cheetah 
population in Namibia has recovered; and (3) the current endangered 
classification puts the species at greater risk because it impedes the 
conservation efforts of the Government of Namibia.
    In the Federal Register of March 19, 1996 (61 FR 11181), we 
announced a 90-day finding that the petition presented substantial 
information indicating that the requested action (i.e., 
reclassification from endangered to threatened) may be warranted. We 
initiated a status review of the cheetah in Namibia, with the original 
comment period ending on July 17, 1996. Before a decision was taken we 
received two new documents of importance to this issue. The first was 
the final report of a 1996 cheetah and lion (Panthera leo) workshop 
sponsored by the World Conservation Union/Species Survival Commission 
(IUCN/SSC) Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) in

[[Page 46392]]

Otjiwarango, Namibia, and attended by a scientist from the Service. The 
report, entitled ``Population and Habitat Viability Assessment for the 
Namibian Cheetah and Lion,'' included a predictive population model for 
the cheetahs in Namibia. The second was a draft cheetah management plan 
for the species entitled ``Namibian Cheetah Conservation Strategy'' 
that was prepared for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) of 
the Government of Namibia. In order to consider this new information 
and any public comments on either report, we announced in the Federal 
Register on December 9, 1997 (62 FR 64800), our decision to reopen the 
comment period until February 1, 1998.
    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act requires us, within 12 months of 
receipt of a petition, to make a finding on whether that petition is 
warranted, not warranted, or warranted but precluded by other pending 
proposals. We herein announce our 12-month finding on this petition.

How Do We Determine if Reclassification of the Namibian Cheetah 
Population Is Warranted Under the Act?

    The cheetah is listed as endangered under the Act. The criteria 
that we must use in evaluating its potential reclassification under the 
Act are explicit. First, we must determine if the Namibian cheetah 
population qualifies as a ``Distinct Population Segment'' as defined in 
the Service's February 7, 1996, Policy Regarding the Recognition of 
Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments under the Endangered Species 
Act (DPS Policy) (61 FR 4722). For a population to be listed under the 
Act as a distinct vertebrate population segment, three elements are 
considered: (1) The discreteness of the population segment in relation 
to the remainder of the species to which it belongs; (2) the 
significance of the population segment to which it belongs; and (3) the 
population segment's conservation status in relation to the Act's 
standards for listing (i.e., is the population segment, when treated as 
if it were a species, endangered or threatened?).
    Second, section 4(a)(1) of the Act requires that we determine if 
any one or a combination of the following five factors cause the 
cheetah in Namibia to be endangered or threatened, as defined by the 
    (A) the present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range;
    (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes;
    (C) disease or predation:
    (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and
    (E) other natural or man-made factors affecting its continued 
    Endangered is defined as ``in danger of extinction throughout all 
or a significant portion of its range'' and threatened is defined as 
``likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range.'' It is our 
assessment of these five factors using the best scientific information 
available, including public comments received during the two public 
comment periods, that determines whether the cheetah should be 
reclassified as threatened (or even delisted).

What Are the Population Estimates and Population Trends for the 
Cheetah in Namibia?

    The cheetah population worldwide has declined from an estimated 
100,000 in 1900 to the current estimate of 12,000 (Marker-Kraus et al. 
1996). Except for a population of fewer than 200 cheetahs in Iran, all 
wild cheetahs occur in Africa.
    In the 1970s, the Namibian cheetah population was variously 
estimated to number from 1,500-3,000 (Myers 1975) to 6,252 (Joubert and 
Mostert 1975) individuals. This disparity in population estimates may 
have been caused in part by whether cubs were excluded from or included 
in the count.
    During the 1980s, the Namibian cheetah population was estimated to 
have declined significantly (up to 50 percent by some estimates). 
Morsbach (1987) estimated the mid-1980s population to be between 2,000 
and 3,000, on the basis of extrapolations from his field study of 
cheetah population density on a small number of Namibian farms (Nowell 
1996). Population declines in the 1980s are thought to have been caused 
by several factors, but primarily (1) declines in natural prey 
populations brought about by drought and disease, and (2) increased 
killing of cheetahs by farmers in defense of livestock (Nowell 1996). 
For example, kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) are a primary cheetah prey 
species, and 58 percent of the kudu population was lost by 1983 due to 
a rabies epidemic (Marker-Kraus et al. 1996). This reduction in natural 
prey created greater conflicts with landowners because of actual and/or 
perceived increases in cheetah predation on domestic livestock. From 
1978 through 1995, 9,588 cheetahs were removed from the wild in Namibia 
according to the MET permit system (Nowell 1996). The actual number of 
cheetahs killed by farmers is believed to have been under-reported, 
potentially by as much as 50 to 70 percent (Nowell 1996). If the level 
of under-reporting was 50 percent, then upwards of 14,000 cheetahs may 
have been killed from 1978 through 1995 (Nowell 1996). Reported 
removals were greater in 1978 through 1985 (annual average of 827 
cheetahs) than in 1986 through 1995 (annual average of 297 cheetahs) 
(Nowell 1996).
    The current population estimate for cheetah in Namibia is between 
2,000 and 3,000 adults and subadults (Nowell 1996, Seal et al. 1997). 
This estimate is based on four studies in addition to Morsbach's 
previously cited field study of cheetah populations: (1) A nationwide 
farm survey conducted in 1992 by the MET; (2) a separate farm survey 
conducted by the Cheetah Conservation Fund (Marker-Kraus et al. 1996); 
(3) an analysis of cheetah sightings in Etosha National Park in 1992 
through 1994 (Nowell et al. 1994); and (4) a transect survey of cheetah 
spoor in eastern Bushmanland (Stander et al. 1996).

What Information Was Provided by Those Who Commented in 1996?

    We received 19 responses to our first request for public comment on 
the cheetah petition. Most of those were from organizations, and in 
some instances, groups made more than one submission. Those 
organizations that sent comments favoring reclassification included the 
IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Africa Resources Trust, Namibia 
Professional Hunting Association, and the American Zoo and Aquarium 
Association. Those organizations that opposed reclassification included 
the Humane Society of the United States, the Cheetah Conservation Fund, 
The Fund For Animals, and the National Museums of Scotland. We also 
received comments from cheetah conservation projects conducted by the 
Smithsonian Institution and the Zoological Society of London.
    A central argument advanced by many of those favoring 
reclassification was that, by giving the cheetah value (i.e., as a 
trophy animal), farmers on whose lands cheetahs naturally occur would 
become more tolerant of the cheetahs and more selective in killing 
them. The Service has typically been unable to make the necessary 
enhancement finding to allow the import of a sport-hunted trophies for 
a species listed as endangered, and taken from the wild under the Act. 
In contrast, import permits for sport-hunted trophies of species listed 
as threatened

[[Page 46393]]

under the Act are often issued for animals taken from the wild when it 
can be demonstrated that the range country has established a 
conservation program that meets enhancement as defined in Section 10 of 
the Act.
    The Africa Resources Trust noted that competition for habitat with 
agricultural uses has contributed more to the decline of cheetahs than 
the trade in skins or the quest for sport-hunted trophies. The Namibia 
Professional Hunting Association emphasized this point with Namibian 
government records from 1980 to 1991; these records show that 190 
cheetahs were taken by trophy hunters, 958 were live-captured, and 
5,670 were shot by farmers. The Director of the Centre for Wildlife 
Management at the University of Pretoria favored the reclassification 
because it would support the game ranching industry in Namibia that has 
created more cheetah habitat. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association 
stated that the cheetah population had stabilized at about 2,500 adult 
    Many of the submissions opposing the reclassification focused on 
the long-term decline of the species and the lack of scientific data on 
the current size of the population. The American Society of 
Mammalogists noted that data on cheetah numbers, distribution, and 
current harvest are needed to set biologically meaningful quotas, and 
data on sex and age ratios would also be necessary to predict 
population responses to different harvest levels. The Curator of 
Mammals and Birds of the National Museums of Scotland also questioned 
the reliability of the current population estimate. The Humane Society 
of the United States evaluated the proposal in terms of each of the 
Act's factors, but particularly pointed out that landholders have 
already become increasingly tolerant of cheetah without allowing 
importation of trophies by the United States.
    Several commenters joined the Humane Society of the United States 
in noting that cheetahs are lacking in genetic variation and are, 
therefore, more vulnerable to disease. However, Peter Jackson, Chairman 
of the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, included in his comments 
information that field biologists working on cheetah had found no 
impact on genetic viability. Since the estimated initial population is 
greater than 1,000, the Population and Habitat Viability Assessment 
projected no additional effects due to inbreeding depression (Seal et 
al. 1997).
    Paule Gros and Tim Caro, biologists who have studied cheetahs in 
the wild and have compared several methods of estimating carnivore 
densities, concluded that there is no biological evidence that the 
Namibian cheetah population is stable and secure. They stated that 
hunting of cheetahs could only be justified if there is some reliable 
measure of sustainable yield based on the total cheetah population 
estimated in the field. Chris Stuart, Director of the African-Arabia 
Wildlife Research Centre, while concurring with the population estimate 
of 2,500 to 3,000 animals, submitted that the population is not stable 
but had undergone considerable decline over the last 15 years. While 
giving no opinion on reclassification, Stuart concluded that putting a 
``price-tag'' on the cheetah could improve its conservation standing, 
as had been his experience with leopards in South Africa.
    The Fund for Animals questioned why considering reclassification of 
the cheetah is a priority within the May 16, 1996, Listing Priority 
Guidance (61 FR 24722) on allocation of resources for the endangered 
species listing process. The evaluation of the cheetah's status under 
the Act was stimulated by a formal petition requesting 
reclassification; the Act itself mandates a specific time frame for 
completing a review and evaluation of a petition. The notice of the 90-
day petition finding and initiation of status review was published in 
the Federal Register on March 19, 1996, almost two months prior to 
publication of the listing guidance. The Office of Scientific Authority 
subsequently complied with the Listing Priority Guidance in assigning 
priority to the cheetah petition in relation to the Office's other 
pending actions to be carried out under section 4 of the Act.

What New Information Was Contributed by the Namibian Cheetah 
Conservation Strategy?

    In conjunction with proposed changes in policy toward cheetahs in 
Namibia, Kristin Nowell of the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group was 
retained by the Government of Namibia to draft the Namibian Cheetah 
Conservation Strategy (Strategy). The Strategy was submitted to the MET 
in 1996, and has subsequently become the working policy (Dr. P. 
Stander, pers. comm. with Office of Scientific Authority). While the 
Strategy addresses many of the Act's listing criteria, one of the most 
important contributions is a population model that was developed to 
assess what impact cheetah removals (by any means) would have on the 
population (Nowell 1996). The model, developed at the Etosha Ecological 
Institute in Namibia and referred to as the Erb model, suggests that in 
the early 1980s removal of up to 50 percent of males and 10 percent of 
females each year reduced the population from 3,700 adults and sub-
adults in 1970 to about 2,000 in 1985. The model concluded that lower 
levels of cheetah removals in the 1990s have allowed the population to 
rebound to an estimated 2,500 in 1996.
    The Strategy assumes that, because the cheetah has a higher 
reproductive rate than those of other big cats, the population should 
be resilient in rebounding from periods of high mortality and offtake 
(i.e., removal of individuals from the population by any means, 
including killing by farmers because of actual or perceived predation 
on domestic livestock, called ``depredation offtake''). The Erb model 
projects that an annual offtake of 20 percent of adult males and 5 
percent of adult females is biologically sustainable. The Strategy 
suggests that the MET, which has responsibility for management of the 
cheetah, establish a target for total removals at 200 per year, and 
consider stopping the issuance of permits if total removals approach 
300 per year.
    The Strategy suggests that the MET hire a Predator Coordinator to 
monitor total cheetah removals reported nationwide each year, as well 
as the sex and age of those animals. The annual removal data would be 
used to refine the cheetah population models that have been developed 
to date. Dr. Philip Stander subsequently was hired for the position of 
Large Carnivore Coordinator.

What New Information Was Contributed by the Population and Habitat 
Viability Assessment (PHVA)?

    The workshop organized by the IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding 
Specialist Group to provide a population and habitat viability 
assessment for the Namibian cheetah and lion was held in Otjiwarongo, 
Namibia, in 1996. We participated in that workshop. The viability of 
the Namibian cheetah population was modeled using the VORTEX population 
simulation program (Lacy 1993). The VORTEX model measures the 
likelihood of the cheetah population going extinct given particular 
population parameters and incorporating the stochastic (or random) 
factors that often drive small populations to extinction.
    The VORTEX modeling exercise started with an approximation of 
current conditions, as follows. The total Namibian cheetah population 
was estimated to be 2,500 including cubs (this may be an underestimate 
of the total Namibian population; the Strategy, in contrast, uses a 
population estimate of 2,500 excluding cubs). The

[[Page 46394]]

proportion of adult females in the population was estimated at 27 
percent, while the adult female mortality rate was estimated at 20 
percent (10 percent natural mortality and 10 percent human-related 
offtake). With an initial population estimate of 2,500, the VORTEX 
model assumed no additional inbreeding depression that would reduce 
offspring viability. The model also assumed no immigration of cheetahs 
from Botswana. Given the aforementioned approximation of current 
conditions, the report concluded that the Namibian cheetah population 
could tolerate a human-related offtake of 60 to 70 adult females per 
year and maintain a stable population of around 2,500.
    The modeling exercise then continued by evaluating factors that 
could affect population growth characteristics, specifically by varying 
the number, frequency, and severity of natural catastrophes (such as 
drought and disease outbreaks), varying adult mortality, varying the 
ratio of adult male-to-female mortality, varying the starting 
population size, and varying the carrying capacity. Factors that tended 
to cause the population to decline included adult female mortality 
greater than 30 percent per year and frequent natural catastrophes 
(e.g., disease outbreaks, drought) resulting in over 50 percent 
mortality across age classes.
    The Executive Summary of the VORTEX Modeling Workshop states that 
``if the cheetah population continues to decline at the 4 to 7 percent 
annual rate experienced over the past 15 years, there is a 50 to 100 
percent probability of extinction in the next 100 years.'' This 
estimate of population decline over the last 15 years would suggest 
that the population is still being overutilized.

What Additional Public Comments Did the Cheetah Conservation 
Strategy and the PHVA Stimulate?

    We received 122 comments during the second comment period, from 
December 1997 to January 1998. Fifteen of those comments came from 
conservation and animal protection organizations such as The 
International Wildlife Coalition, Beauty without Cruelty, and the 
Animal Protection Institute. Of the comments of private individuals, 82 
were from four groups and all of those opposed reclassifying the 
    Olive D. Butler and Erin Boddicker joined 19 other private 
individuals in stating that there are no accurate, standardized methods 
for determining the cheetah population in Namibia. The Animal 
Protection Institute was among commenters stating that cheetah are 
inbred and, therefore, more vulnerable to disease. Irene Ballinger and 
16 other commenters wrote that the cheetah was still in decline, with 
the population worldwide dropping more than 60 percent in the last 30 
years. Leslie Ann Adams and 22 others stated that there are at present 
no accurate, standardized methods for determining how many cheetahs are 
killed each year, whether for depredation control, hunting, or other 
purposes. We concur that, until there is an established census for the 
cheetah, conducted over several years, any contention that the 
population is continuing to decline or has stabilized is conjecture.
    Representative George Miller of the U.S. House of Representatives 
(D-CA) and ranking minority member of the Committee on Resources opened 
his letter by stating that any decision to reclassify a species must 
address whether the conditions that led to the listing have been 
removed. He points out that, while it is useful to encourage other 
countries to find innovative ways to conserve predators, we must base 
any decision not on the promise of such programs but evidence of their 
    The American Zoo and Aquarium Association wrote again during the 
second comment period, reversing their earlier support for 
reclassification because the provisions they had stipulated in their 
initial comments had not been met. While acknowledging the ``tremendous 
strides'' made by the Government of Namibia, they concluded that 
neither the annual census nor the conservation program funded in part 
by trophy fees were yet in place.
    Kristin Nowell, a member of the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group who 
participated in the PHVA workshop and drafted the Namibian Cheetah 
Conservation Strategy, commented that the conclusion in the Executive 
Summary of the VORTEX Modeling Workshop report on the extinction 
probability did not reflect the consensus of the workshop. Most of the 
scenarios that were run by the VORTEX model did not result in 
extinction within 100 years according to Nowell. She went on to express 
her view that Namibia has the world's best cheetah conservation 
program, and there is broad support for the reclassification within the 
country's conservation community.
    Wildlife Biologist James Teer of the Welder Wildlife Foundation 
emphasized the point made most frequently in support of 
reclassification: it is the opportunistic, indiscriminate killing of 
cheetahs by farmers to protect livestock that represents the greatest 
threat to the species. Teer called for increasing field studies of 
cheetahs, as well as further genetic and disease work.
    John J. Jackson III of Conservation Force wrote in support of the 
Namibian Cheetah Conservation Strategy. He stated that there was an 
error in the Executive Summary of the PHVA report, specifically that 
the population decline in the early 1980s had been reversed and the 
population had been stable for the last 15 years. Mr. Jackson pointed 
out that the PHVA workshop used 2,500 as the total cheetah population 
figure and interpolated the estimate for adults to 1,300, whereas the 
biologists in Namibia consider 2,500 to be the estimate excluding cubs. 
Finally, Jackson stated that the Convention on International Trade in 
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) had approved a quota 
of cheetah trophies from Namibia, and the United States had not 
objected. Not allowing these trophies to be imported amounted to a 
trade sanction, according to Jackson, that would only work in the short 
    In response to Jackson's comments, we believe that there is no 
consensus on cheetah population trends over the past 15 years. We also 
believe that, in determining the status of any species, population 
trends must be evaluated over the long term. In the Namibian cheetah's 
case, long-term trends indicate a population decline. Furthermore, our 
decision on reclassification must be based on whether the species has 
recovered sufficiently so that it is no longer endangered by the five 
factors specified in the Act, rather than only if the species has 
ceased to decline within the past 15 years. We disagree that the 
endangered listing under the Act amounts to a trade sanction, noting 
that the Act constitutes a ``stricter domestic measure,'' which is 
specifically authorized in CITES. Whether cheetah trophies can be 
imported into the United States is not a factor in our decision on 
whether the species has recovered sufficiently to warrant 
reclassification under the Act. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service 
is now reviewing its current practice regarding import of foreign 
species to determine whether any new policy should be proposed.

Can the Cheetah Population of Namibia Be Considered a Distinct 
Population Segment Under the Act?

    The cheetah in Namibia, A. j. jubatus, is a subspecies that occurs 
in four other African countries. It is not genetically isolated from 
populations in other countries, particularly Botswana. Nonetheless, the 
cheetah population of Namibia qualifies as a distinct

[[Page 46395]]

population segment because it meets the criteria for discreteness and 
significance in the Service's DPS Policy (61 FR 4722). One criterion 
for discreteness under the DPS Policy is: ``[The population] is 
delimited by international government boundaries within which 
differences in control of exploitation, management of habitat, 
conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms exist * * *'' The 
Namibian cheetah population satisfies this criterion. The measures 
taken by the Government of Namibia, including the development of the 
Namibian Cheetah Conservation Strategy, are steps that indicate that 
the population will be managed differently than in the countries that 
border Namibia. The cheetah population of Namibia also satisfies the 
following criterion for significance: ``Evidence that loss of the 
discrete population segment would result in a significant gap in the 
range of a taxon.'' Clearly, the extinction of the Namibian cheetah 
population would represent a significant loss to the range of the 
cheetah in Africa.

After Assessing the Five Factors Specified by the Act, Should the 
Cheetah Population of Namibia Remain as Endangered or Does It 
Warrant Reclassification From Endangered to Threatened?

    While acknowledging the great strides that have been made by the 
MET and cooperating groups, we cannot conclude that the cheetah 
population of Namibia has recovered or that the factors that caused the 
cheetah to become endangered have been reduced to the extent that the 
species warrants reclassification from endangered to threatened. Our 
assessment of the five factors specified in the Act is as follows.

A. Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of 
Its Habitat or Range

    With regard to the first factor, there is agreement that at least 
90 percent of cheetah habitat in Namibia is on privately owned 
farmlands (Marker-Kraus et al. 1996). Moreover, because of competition 
with other carnivores, there is little likelihood of public lands 
becoming a significant refuge for cheetahs (Caro 1994).
    Because of the abundance of prey on game ranches and farms with 
domestic animals, the fact that most cheetah habitat is in private 
ownership does not constitute an inherent threat to the species. It is 
a threat if farmers shoot cheetahs indiscriminately, and the effort to 
substantially reduce these killings on private lands is the critical 
component of the current management program. Those efforts are not 
likely to be fully tested until drought or disease again take a 
significant portion of the cheetah's primary natural prey, and 
predation on domestic livestock increases, or is perceived to have 
increased, as a consequence.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    With regard to the second factor, we believe there is substantial 
evidence to indicate that overutilization, in the form of depredation 
offtake, contributed substantially to a decline of the Namibian cheetah 
population in the past three decades (especially from the late 1970s 
until the late 1980s or early 1990s). However, we cannot determine if 
overutilization is still occurring because the lack of reliable, long-
term population estimates (i.e., estimates obtained through standard 
survey methodology repeated at regular intervals over the past 30 
years) for cheetah in Namibia make it impossible to determine whether 
the population has been increasing, decreasing, or stable over the past 
30 years (but especially the past 10-15 years).
    Both the Erb and VORTEX models have been used to derive estimates 
of offtake that would not drive the population to the point of 
extinction based on estimates of initial population size and other 
population parameters. Combining the MET figures for trophy and 
reported depredation offtake in Namibia, 125 cheetahs were killed in 
1997 and 175 in 1998 (P. Stander, pers. comm. with OSA) in contrast to 
a yearly average of 568 for 1980 through 1991. The 1997 and 1998 totals 
fall within the sustainable offtake limits set by both models, assuming 
a 2:1 ratio of males to females in all kills, and assuming a current 
population of 2,500. However, these results cannot be used to conclude 
that overutilization is not occurring, because the accuracy of the 
current population estimate of 2,500 is debatable and the exact level 
of offtake is not known. The current population estimate should be 
expressed with a confidence interval (i.e., 2,500 <plus-minus> 500), as 
it is derived from an estimate of 2,000 to 3,000 cheetahs made over a 
decade ago by Morsbach (1997). Even with such a confidence interval, 
the accuracy of the estimate is still unknown. Recent depredation 
offtake, averaging 96 animals in 1997 and 1998, is consistent with a 
steady decline from a high of 850 in 1982. This decline could be 
attributed to a change in farmer attitudes but may also be a result of 
increased levels of under-reporting. Nowell (1996; page 28) has stated 
that ``* * * there are indications that under-reporting is becoming 
increasingly common.''
    The MET has made the development of indirect survey methods and 
establishment of a population monitoring program its top priorities. It 
has acknowledged that mark-and-recapture methods have not been very 
successful, due to the difficulty of capturing the necessary number of 
cheetahs. Spoor counts have shown potential in the current monitoring 
program (Stander 1998). We strongly support the implementation of a 
standardized survey methodology and population monitoring program in 
Namibia. To that end we have made funds available to co-sponsor a 
workshop to help evaluate currently used methods and to help adopt a 
standardized survey strategy and population monitoring program for 
Namibian cheetahs that has widespread professional acceptance. Data 
from such a population monitoring program would be needed to determine 
whether the cheetah population in Namibia has recovered sufficiently to 
warrant reclassification.

C. Disease or Predation

    With regard to disease and predation, it is known that cheetahs 
have died from feline infectious peritonitis (Brown et al. 1993) and 
anthrax (Jager et al. 1990). The low level of genetic variation in 
cheetahs as a result of historical and recent ``bottlenecks'' due to 
small population size heightens the concern about disease 
susceptibility (O'Brien et al. 1994). Moreover, outbreaks of foot and 
mouth disease and rabies had a major impact on natural prey populations 
in the 1980s, increasing the likelihood that cheetahs would prey on 
domestic livestock (Marker-Kraus et al. 1986) and thereby make them 
more susceptible to depredation offtake by farmers. In this way, 
disease has contributed to the overutilization of cheetah in Namibia 
and thus has been an indirect factor in their endangerment.
    Predation on cheetah cubs by lions and hyenas has reduced cheetah 
numbers in protected areas such as Etosha National Park and elsewhere 
(Laurenson 1994, Caro 1994). We do not, however, consider this to be a 
factor contributing to their endangered status.

D. Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    The fourth factor, the inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms, has been the area of greatest change in the last decade. 
While the cheetah has been classified as ``Protected Game'' in 
Namibia's Nature Conservation

[[Page 46396]]

Ordinance of 1975, and protected game cannot be hunted without a 
permit, there is an important exception for predators. Article 27.5 
allows killing of protected game in protection of livestock ``whilst 
the life of such livestock, poultry or domestic animal is actually 
being threatened.'' It also states that anyone who kills a predator 
must report it in writing within 10 days to the nearest nature 
conservator or police office. In practice, cheetahs were killed by 
farmers as a precautionary measure, particularly in the 1980s when 
cheetahs were a major threat to livestock. Cheetah kills were seldom 
reported unless the skin was going to be kept. The Namibian Cheetah 
Conservation Strategy represents a change not in the law but in its 
application (Nowell 1996).
    The cheetah's protected status also precludes trophy hunting, but 
the government decided to allow trophy hunting of cheetah and leopard 
due to the problems of predation on livestock, in the hope that 
increasing their value would reduce the overall number killed. This 
rationale was explained in a 1982 letter from the Namibian Secretary of 
the Department of Agriculture to our Office of Scientific Authority. 
The experiment in conservation hunting of cheetahs in Namibia has been 
taking place since 1983 and was supported in 1992 at the eighth meeting 
of the CITES Conference of the Parties (COP8). At COP8, Parties voted 
to retain the cheetah in Appendix I, but to allow an annual export 
quota for Namibia of 150 live animals and trophies as well as smaller 
export quotas for Zimbabwe (50) and Botswana (5).
    In 1997, 49 cheetahs were exported (32 males and 17 females). In 
1998, 59 cheetahs were tagged, but only 40 were exported (30 males and 
10 females) (P. Stander, pers. comm. with OSA). Though significantly 
fewer cheetahs have been removed than allowed under the quota, we are 
unable, at present, to evaluate the effects of that removal as well as 
the depredation offtake on the population.

E. Other Natural or Man-made Factors Affecting its Continued Existence

    With regard to other natural factors affecting the existence of the 
cheetah, drought has had a substantial impact on populations of the 
cheetah's natural prey. As with disease, this has increased the 
likelihood that cheetahs would prey on domestic livestock (Marker-Kraus 
et al. 1986), thereby making them more susceptible to depredation 
offtake by farmers.
    The single most important man-made factor affecting the existence 
of the cheetah is the attitude of farmers with respect to the value of 
cheetahs relative to the threat they pose to domestic livestock. The 
Government of Namibia and non-government organizations have worked 
together to change public attitudes toward this predator. The decrease 
in the reported depredation offtake, as well as personal interviews 
with many of the people working in cheetah conservation in Namibia, 
suggest that attitudes are changing. This factor will become less of a 
significant issue as attitudes change sufficiently so that most 
cheetahs on farmlands are tolerated and only problem cheetahs are 
removed as trophies.

What Is Our Assessment of the Petition's Three Reasons To 
Reclassify the Cheetah From Threatened to Endangered?

    The petition states three reasons why the petitioners believe that 
the cheetah population of Namibia qualifies for reclassification from 
endangered to threatened. We do not concur with any of these reasons, 
as explained in the following assessment.

A. Was the Original Listing of the Cheetah as Endangered Throughout Its 
Range in Error?

    At the time the cheetah was originally considered for listing under 
the Act, we considered different levels of protection for different 
populations. It was ultimately decided that the species should be 
considered endangered throughout its range. Though some populations and 
subspecies, such as the Asian cheetah, were under greater immediate 
threat, there were substantial reasons for considering the entire 
species to be endangered in 1972. The worldwide decline in the last 
century of the cheetah from 100,000 to 12,000 and the restriction of 
its range from 44 to 29 countries (Marker-Kraus et al. 1996) support 
this classification. While the cheetah population in Namibia has 
remained larger than in almost all other African nations, there is 
evidence that this population has declined substantially as a result of 
reductions in prey populations and overutilization by people in the 
form of depredation offtake. We believe that such declines endanger the 
continued survival of cheetah in Namibia.

B. Has the Cheetah Population of Namibia Recovered to the Point It Is 
No Longer Endangered?

    In order to reclassify the cheetah in Namibia from endangered to 
threatened, we must have information showing that the factors that led 
to its endangerment have been reduced sufficiently. That requirement 
must be met with data supporting the contention that the population is 
stable or increasing, and of sufficient size to withstand most natural 
catastrophes. We currently do not have such information for the cheetah 
population of Namibia. Such information would include reliable, long-
term population estimates for the country, data on the demographics of 
the population, and better information on depredation offtake, and 
would be used with the existing data on trophy offtake and live 

C. Does the Endangered Status of the Cheetah Reduce Its Value to 
Namibian Farmers, Who Will Then Be More Likely To Kill the Animals 

    This reason is the core of the Namibian Government's effort to have 
the cheetah reclassified under the Act. Because it is estimated that 90 
percent of the cheetahs in Namibia have their primary habitat on 
farmland, due in part to the density of other carnivores in protected 
areas, working out conservation measures with private landowners on 
farmlands is crucial to the long-term survival of the species in 
Namibia. We agree that cooperative conservation efforts with private 
landowners are vital to the recovery of the species, as we have seen 
with endangered and threatened predator species in the United States.
    It is important to acknowledge the major effort undertaken by the 
Government of Namibia during the past decade in developing conservation 
measures to maintain a stable cheetah population. The MET has worked 
closely with local non-governmental organizations such as Africat and 
the Cheetah Conservation Fund to understand and sometimes change the 
attitudes of farmers toward cheetahs on their land. The MET has adopted 
a strategy for conserving the cheetah that foremost seeks to give the 
animals value and avoid having them shot as a precaution against 
assumed livestock or game predation. The decision in this Notice should 
not in any way be seen as a rejection of Namibia's conservation 
efforts, which we applaud. Rather, this decision is based on our 
evaluation of the five factors specified in the Act.
    The MET has worked with the Namibia Professional Hunting 
Association (NAPHA), which has encouraged its members to sign compacts 
in which they ``agree to take reasonable steps to control the 
indiscriminate killing of cheetahs on their properties and to educate 
their employees, tenants and others living in the vicinity of their 
properties on the importance of the conservation of the cheetah.'' In 
November 1998, more than

[[Page 46397]]

190 properties comprising 1.5 million hectares were in compact lands. 
While this does not represent a large percentage of cheetah habitat in 
the country, more than 70 percent of the land where NAPHA members hunt 
is covered by compacts.
    The second important development is the formation of farm 
conservancies under the 1996 amendments to the Nature Conservation 
Ordinance. Conservancies are groups of farms that join together for the 
purpose of conserving and utilizing wildlife. With the encouragement 
and participation of the MET, the conservancy movement has greatly 
expanded in the last few years. Cheetahs should benefit from the 
formation of conservancies in several ways. Because conservancies are 
groups of farms that comprise the ranges of game species, they should 
enhance the cheetah prey base. Also, because cheetahs have such large 
home ranges, population monitoring as well as identifying depredating 
individuals is likely to be more reliable at the conservancy level. 
Merging of the NAPHA compact scheme and the formation of farmland 
conservancies would also increase the potential benefits of cheetah 
sport hunting to a larger number of farmers.
    The models developed both in conjunction with the PHVA and the 
Strategy are important steps toward determining what would constitute a 
stable cheetah population size with a low probability of extinction in 
the next 100 years. While several scientists submitting comments 
pointed out limitations with both models, the numbers in these reports 
have provided a first estimate of the level of offtake that would still 
sustain a healthy population. The models also point to the need for a 
monitoring program to provide an accurate estimate of the present 
population and its demographic composition.
    The next significant development in cheetah conservation in the 
country is the Namibia Carnivore Monitoring Program. While it includes 
monitoring of other predators as well, it represents a recognition that 
the success of any conservation effort can only be determined with 
scientific measurement of cheetah abundance as well as natural 
mortality and offtake. The monitoring program establishes a priority of 
developing reliable survey and monitoring techniques within three 
years. Field personnel have been hired to carry out some of the initial 
work, and cooperating organizations have been enlisted to work on 
developing these methods as well. There has been an effort to calibrate 
the less intensive methods and to compare estimation methods across 
carnivore species. A determination to reclassify the cheetah under the 
Act depends critically on the success of the monitoring program.
    Finally, one of the most important recent developments in cheetah 
conservation is the initiation of the Large Carnivore Management Forum. 
Having met more than 15 times over the past two years, the Forum has 
brought together all stakeholders in cheetah management in Namibia. The 
permanent members include Afrileo, Africat, the Conservancy Association 
of Namibia (formed among farmers to deal with free-ranging wildlife), 
the Cheetah Conservation Fund, MET, NAPHA, Namibia Agricultural Union, 
Namibian Game Sanctuary Association, Namibian Carnivore Monitoring 
Program, Namibian Nature Foundation, OKATUMBA Wildlife Research, and 
six veterinary clinics. Other groups with issues to bring to the forum 
are invited, as is the press. The Forum has been directly involved in 
developing the monitoring program. It also provides a place for 
discussion when there are conflicts among stakeholders.
    In total, the programs undertaken by the Namibian Government in 
conjunction with interested non-governmental organizations constitute a 
conservation infrastructure that can contribute to the long-term 
survival of the species.

Does That Mean That Reclassification of the Cheetah Population of 
Namibia Will Occur Eventually?

    A decision on reclassification can only be made when the threats 
identified as endangering the species have been reduced, and there is 
evidence of the species' recovery. Such evidence can only come from 
reliable estimates of the total population and the sources of annual 
offtake. Those data must support the contention that the population is 
stable or increasing, and of sufficient size to withstand most natural 
catastrophes. The MET is collecting data on the sources of cheetah 
offtake, and has begun establishing parameters for a census and 
monitoring program. It is possible that, after population monitoring 
has taken place for several years, we would have sufficient information 
to conclude that reclassification is warranted. We do not have that 
information today. If reliable means of population estimation are 
established, and those estimates show that the cheetah population is of 
sufficient size and has remained stable or increased for at least six 
consecutive years (i.e., the time period during which four biennial or 
three triennial surveys would take place), then the Service could again 
consider the Namibian cheetah population for reclassification under the 

References Cited

Brown, E.W., R.A. Olmstead, J.S. Martenson, and S.J. O'Brien. 
Exposure to FIV and FIPV in wild and captive cheetahs. Zoo Bio 
CITES. 1994 Quotas for trade in specimens of cheetah Doc. 8.22:579-
582 Proceeding of the eighth meeting of the Conference of the 
Parties. CITES Secretariat, Geneva.
Caro, T.M. Cheetahs of the Serengeti Plains 1994. The University of 
Chicago Press. Chicago.
Jager, H.G., H.H. Brooker and J.B. Hubschle. 1990. Anthrax in 
cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) in Namibia. J. Wildl Dis 26:423-424.
Joubert, E. and P.K.N. Mostert. 1975 Distribution patterns and 
status of some mammals in Southwest Africa. Madoqua 9(1): 5-44.
Lacy, R.C. 1993. VORTEX: A computer simulation model for population 
viability analysis. Wildl 20:45-65.
Laurenson, M.K. 1994 High juvenile mortality in cheetahs (Acinonyx 
jubatus) and its consequences for maternal care. J. Zool. 234:387-
Marker-Kraus, L., D. Kraus, D. Barnett, and S. Hurlbut. 1996. 
Cheetah Survival on Namibian Farmland. Cheetah Conservation Fund. 
Marker-Kraus, L. and D. Kraus. 1997. Conservation strategies for the 
long-term survival of the cheetah. Int. Zoo Yb 35: 59-66.
Morsbach, D. 1985 The ecology, behaviour and movements of the 
cheetah on farm area of South West Africa, Namibia. Annual Reports, 
Department of Agriculture and Nature Conservation, Directorate of 
Nature Conservation and Recreational Resourts.
Morsbach, D. Cheetah in Namibia. Cat News:25-26
Myers, N. 1975 The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus (Acinonyx jubatus) in 
Africa. IUCN Monograph No. 4. Morges, Switzerland, International 
Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Morges. 
Nowell, K 1996. Namibian Cheetah Conservation Strategy Review Draft 
Submitted to Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Government of 
O'Brien, S.J. The cheetah's conservation controversy. Cons. Bio. 
Seal, U.S., H. Berry, O. Forge, L. Marker-Kraus and K. Nowell. 1997. 
Life History/VORTEX Modeling Working Group Report. In Population & 
Habitat Viability Assessment for the Namibian Cheetah (Acinonyx 
jubatus) and Lion (Panthera leo). IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding 
Specialist Group, Apple Valley MN
Stander, P.E. Spoor counts as indices of large carnivore 
populations: the relationship between spoor frequency, sampling 
effort and true density. J. Appl. Ecol. 35:378-385

[[Page 46398]]

    Authority: The authority for this action is the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: June 28, 2000.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 00-18692 Filed 7-27-00; 8:45 am]