Cheetah populations are plummeting and the authors of a new study caution that they might go extinct without serious conservation efforts. There are about 7,000 individuals left in the wild and most of them are in unprotected habitat. The species is currently listed as “Vulnerable” but the research team suggests that they be reclassified as “Endangered.” The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is the fastest land mammal, running at speeds of up to 75 miles an hour. The species is listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and there have been numerous attempts at conservation. Cheetah numbers have continued to drop, however, and the animals are difficult to track due to their secretive nature and huge home ranges.
A team of researchers from the Zoological Society of London collaborated with scientists from the Panthera and Wildlife Conservation Society to create a report on the current status of wild cheetahs. The team estimated that there are only 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild. In some countries, cheetah numbers are down to 100 or even 50 individuals. Most wild cheetahs (over 75%) live outside of protected areas. This is a serious problem because the cats are popular targets for poaching and the illegal exotic pet trade. Even when cheetahs stay within protected zones, they’re still at risk and may have trouble finding food or suitable habitat. Humans have overhunted their prey and developed land that was part of cheetah home ranges. The authors of the paper predict that the species will go extinct unless conservation efforts are increased.
Cheetahs are in danger of going extinct and most of their habitat is unprotected. Researchers are suggesting that the species be relisted as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This would prioritize cheetah conservation and give the species a chance to bounce back.
Durant et al. The global decline of cheetah Acinonyx jubatus and what it means for conservation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016).