Conservation

Cheetahs In Greater Danger of Extinction than Previously Thought

A Cheetah pictured during one of the Institute of Zoology's Field Conservation projects in Tanzania, 2005. Photo courtesy of Zoological Society of London
A Cheetah pictured during one of the Institute of Zoology’s Field Conservation projects in Tanzania, 2005. Photo courtesy of Zoological Society of London

Scientists are urging that the cheetah be reclassified from “vulnerable” to “endangered” as there are only 7,100 members of the species remaining on the planet.

Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land animal and occupy a huge range of Africa and the Middle East. However, about 77 percent of their range falls outside of protected areas, and they have been driven out of about 91 percent of their historic range. They have fallen prey to a number of threats including changing land use by humans, loss of prey species due to human competition, and trafficking in cheetah parts and live cats as exotic pets.

Basically, it’s entirely our fault that cheetahs are dying out.

However, because of cheetahs’ wide ranges and the large territories that they need in order to hunt, they’re also hard to conserve. We can’t just mark off small protected areas to keep them safe. Even in the areas where they are protected, they face challenges that most people don’t think about.

Moving them to the endangered classification could be a huge help, though, because that often comes with increased attention and funding to help conserve a species, which is exactly what the cheetah needs.

In order to save the cheetahs, we have to think beyond traditional conservation methods, and find ways to help them in both protected and unprotected regions. The changing landscape of Africa needs to change in ways that benefit humans and cheetahs, and we need to take stronger steps to end the trafficking of live cats or their parts, keeping the animals alive and in the wild where they belong.

We’ve managed to help turn other species around through concentrated effort in the past, so there is hope for the cheetah. Knowing that they’re at far greater risk than we had expected is a big step on its own, as it allows us to starting thinking of ways to help preserve the species which we wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

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