Understanding the environmental drivers that influence the spatial distribution of wildlife is paramount to the conservation of endangered carnivore species. However, presence data on most carnivore species (e.g. cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus) are not readily available to assist conservation efforts. In this study, we used MaxEnt to tease out the key determinants of the spatial distribution of cheetahs using presence-only data of cheetah against five environmental variables, i.e. distance to water (a proxy for prey density), elevation, slope, terrain ruggedness, and soil adjusted vegetation index (SAVI; a proxy for vegetation quality and condition). Our MaxEnt model was successful (AUC = 0.98) in predicting the potential distribution of cheetahs in Gonarezhou National Park. We observed that amongst the five environmental variables, elevation and distance to water contributed most (88%) to the potential distribution of cheetahs. The contribution of SAVI, slope and terrain ruggedness (12%) was negligible. We also estimated that the potential predicted habitat of cheetahs was 2572.9 km2 (51.2% of Gonarezhou National Park). In addition to providing baseline information, these findings are both novel and specific to Gonarezhou National Park, and provide important insights into cheetah conservation and management.
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