Cheetahs, an animal renowned for being the world’s fastest land animal and predator, is at risk of becoming extinct, experts have warned.
Cheetahs, like many animals across the globe, have seen their numbers dwindle and their territory shrink. Only 7,100 of the big cats remain in the wild and they occupy just 9% of their original territory.
Asiatic cheetahs have had it worse, with only 50 surviving in Iran. In Zimbabwe, cheetah populations have declined 85% in the last decade. Today, only 170 remain in Zimbabwe, down from 1,200 16 years ago.
Researchers, alarmed by the sudden and steep decline of cheetahs, are calling for the predator’s status to be upgraded from vulnerable to endangered on the ICUN’s Red List.
“This study represents the most comprehensive analysis of cheetah status to date. Given the secretive nature of this elusive cat, it has been difficult to gather hard information on the species, leading to its plight being overlooked,” said Dr. Sarah Durant, project leader for the Rangewide conservation programme.
“Our findings show that the large space requirements for cheetah, coupled with the complex range of threats faced by the species in the wild, mean that it is likely to be much more vulnerable to extinction than was previously thought,” she continued.
The Cheetah is a rather unique creature in that it has one of the largest ranges of any big cat or carnivore. 77% of its territory is not protected land, which has been a huge contributor to their decline.
And even in reserves and parks that are well monitored and managed, the cheetah has been subject to illegal trafficking and poaching.
“We’ve just hit the reset button in our understanding of how close cheetahs are to extinction.” says Dr. Kim Young-Overton. “The takeaway from this pinnacle study is that securing protected areas alone is not enough.”
“We must think bigger, conserving across the mosaic of protected and unprotected landscapes that these far-reaching cats inhabit, If we are to avert the otherwise certain loss of the cheetah forever.”