Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), the fastest animals on land, are now facing near-extinction. According to experts, only an estimated 7,100 cheetahs are currently living in the wild.
A study led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) revealed that the most affected population is that in Asia, with cheetahs in Iran estimated to be less than 50. In Zimbabwe, on the other hand, the population nosedived by 85%, from 1,200 in the year 2000 to only 170 this year.
Experts are lobbying to have the cheetah’s status changed from “vulnerable” to “endangered.”
According to Dr. Sarah Durant of ZSL and WCS:
‘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.
‘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.’
Cheetahs require a vast expanse of land for hunting. As such, almost 80% of the carnivores’ habitat extends beyond the protected zones, thereby exposing them to the brunt of human actions and abuses. These large cats have long been suffering as a result of man hunting their prey, gradual demise of their natural environment, the trading of exotic pets, and illegal smuggling of the cat’s anatomical parts.
Dr. Kim Young-Overton of Panthera, an organization that focuses on the conservation of wild cats, said:
‘We’ve just hit the reset button in our understanding of how close cheetahs are to extinction.
‘The take-away 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.’
Humans must act urgently to save the cheetah from extinction.
We must recognize that it is part of our responsibility to help protect these animals, not only for our generation but for the forthcoming ones. In our own small ways, we can help save these endangered species. We can begin by educating others, especially the young ones, about the wildlife and its wonder; by refusing to participate in killing, capturing, or trading these vulnerable animals; and, by preserving their natural habitat such as avoiding illegal logging and excessive urbanization.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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