Cheetah Close to Extinction, Ecological Scientists Warn

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By Wachira Kigotho

Cheetah, the fastest land animal on earth, is heading toward extinction, according to researchers at the Zoological Society of London.

Their report found only about 7,000 cheetahs remaining in the wild, almost exclusively in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Our work suggests that, if nothing is done, we can expect to see a decline of 50 percent over the next three cheetah generations, or roughly in 15 years period,” lead author Sarah Durant told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 5. “These populations are highly vulnerable to extinction and could very well disappear in the next couple of decades without action now.”

The report, published late last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found cheetahs are declining fast because of loss of habitat in Africa, where they are more often coming into contact with humans. Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, a small pocket of cheetahs still lives in Iran.

Run-ins With Humans

Severe declines of cheetah have been reported in western and central Africa. In Zimbabwe alone, cheetah populations declined by 85 percent between 1999 and 2015, the researchers found.

“It is possible that similar contractions in range may have happened in other countries, but while we lack specific percentage declines, we know cheetahs are rapidly disappearing in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Durant, a senior research scientist at the Zoological Society of London, who also is affiliated with the World Conservation Society.

Two-thirds of cheetahs live outside game reserves and other protected areas where they face multiple threats including habitat loss and fragmentation, loss of prey, conflict with livestock and game keepers, according to ecological scientists at the Zoological Society of London, the World Conservation Society and Panthera, an organization exclusively devoted to conservation of wild cats.

In particular, cheetahs are increasingly coming into conflict with people nomadic pastoralists in sub-Saharan Africa.

Poaching

“But even more serious, cheetahs are at risk from illegal trade as pets and poaching for their skins,” Durant said in an interview with Bloomberg BNA.

Although most sub-Saharan Africa countries have wildlife protection laws, enforcement is often lax, the report found, with governments often lacking the resources to stem poaching.

Cheetahs can accelerate to 60 mph (96.6 km/h) in three seconds, and can run in short bursts at up to 75 mph (120.7 km/h). They also are among the widest ranging of the cat family, and often traveling across areas larger than 386 square miles (1,000) kilometers a year to find prey and avoid larger cats and other predators, which can kill their cubs and steal their kills, Durant said.

To contact the reporter: Wachira Kigotho in Nairobi at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

For More Information

The study, "The global decline of cheetah Acinonyx jubatus and what it means for conservation," is available at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/12/20/1611122114.full.pdf

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