Cheetahs could soon be defined as “endangered” species as numbers dwindle

Conservationists want cheetahs to be defined as “endangered” species

The fastest running animal on land is facing high risk of extinction as the number in the wild has reduced to nearly 7,100. There were more than 100,000 cheetahs in Africa in the start of last century. The research paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has urged for status of cheetah to be converted to 'endangered'. Amid persistently shrinking populations of cheetah across Africa and other historic habitats around the world, conservationists have sounded alarm bells for the fastest animal on land.

As per a study published on Monday, just around 7,100 cheetahs remain in the wild across Africa and in a small area of Iran as human encroachment has pushed the predator out of 91 per cent of its natural habitats.

Lead study author Dr. Sarah Durant, a cheetah expert at the Zoological Society of London, suggested that the predator should be defined as “endangered” on the official watch list of threatened species worldwide. Currently, the predator considered as a “vulnerable” species on the list.

Sounding the alarm, Dr. Durant said, “Our findings show that the large space requirements for the 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.”

According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), a young cheetah cat can fetch up to $10,000 in the black market, and nearly 1,200 cheetah cubs have been trafficked out of Africa over the last ten years.

At the recently-held CITES conference in South Africa, governments agreed to adopt new measures to tackle the issue, such as cracking down on the use of social media for advertising cheetah sales. Now, experts have suggested that more measures, such as paying local communities to protect the predator, are needed to ensure long-term protection for the species.

The research paper informed...

Due to the species' dramatic decline, the study's authors are calling for the cheetah to be up-listed from 'Vulnerable' to 'Endangered' on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Typically, greater international conservation support, prioritization and attention are granted to wildlife classified as 'Endangered', in efforts to stave off impending extinction.

Dr. Sarah Durant, ZSL/WCS lead author and Project Leader for the Rangewide Conservation Program for Cheetah and African Wild Dog, said: "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."

Durant continued, "We have worked with range state governments and the cheetah conservation community to put in place comprehensive frameworks for action to save the species, but funds and resources are needed to implement them. The recent decisions made at the CITES CoP17 meeting in Johannesburg represent a significant breakthrough particularly in terms of stemming the illegal flow of live cats trafficked out of the Horn of Africa region. However, concerted action is needed to reverse ongoing declines in the face of accelerating land use changes across the continent."

While renowned for its speed and spots, the degree of persecution cheetahs face both inside and outside of protected areas is largely unrecognized. Even within guarded parks and reserves, cheetahs rarely escape the pervasive threats of human-wildlife conflict, prey loss due to overhunting by people, habitat loss and the illegal trafficking of cheetah parts and trade as exotic pets.

Scientists are now calling for an urgent paradigm shift in cheetah conservation, towards landscape-level efforts that transcend national borders and are coordinated by existing regional conservation strategies for the species. A holistic conservation approach, which incentivises protection of cheetahs by local communities and trans-national governments, alongside sustainable human-wildlife coexistence is paramount to the survival of the species.