Cheetahs are beginning to hunt at night more as daytime temperatures in their biome soar, putting them in conflict with other cats.
In a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers uncovered a shift in the hunting behavior of cheetahs. Traditionally known as daytime hunters, these swift big cats are altering their activity patterns to focus on dawn and dusk during warmer weather conditions.
This adjustment comes with potential dangers for the already endangered cheetah population. The study, conducted by scientists from the University of Washington, points at an increased likelihood of conflicts with already-nocturnal predators such as lions and leopards.
Briana Abrahms, co-author of the study and a biologist at the University of Washington, emphasized the impact of changing temperatures on the behavior of large carnivores and the resulting dynamics among different species.
The study revealed that on exceptionally hot days, with temperatures reaching nearly 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit), cheetahs showed more nocturnal behavior, increasing their overlapping hunting hours with rival big cats by 16%. Kasim Rafiq, another co-author and biologist at the University of Washington, pointed out, “There’s a greater chance for more unfriendly encounters and less food for the cheetahs.”
For the research, GPS tracking collars were fitted on 53 cheetahs, lions, leopards, and African wild dogs. Over an eight-year period, the scientists recorded their locations and activity hours, comparing this data with maximum daily temperature records.
While seasonal cycles accounted for most temperature fluctuations during the study period (2011 to 2018), the observed behavioral changes provide valuable insights into the potential impacts of a warming world. The researchers plan to further investigate encounters between large carnivores using audio-recording devices and accelerometers in future phases of their research.
Beyond the challenges posed by increased interactions with lions and leopards, cheetahs already face threats from habitat fragmentation and human conflicts. As the world warms, these climate-induced alterations in behavior may become increasingly critical for the survival of cheetahs as a species.