A new study led by the Zoological Society of London [ZSL] and the Wildlife Conservation Society [WCS] has uncovered a dramatic decline in their numbers, with only around 7,100 believed to now exist in the wild. With a historic population of over 100,000 in 1900, the species is clearly now in a fragile state, amid calls for them to be reclassified by the IUCN as endangered. The reasons behind their collapse include:
- Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation.
- Human-wildlife conflict.
- Loss of prey due to the growing bushmeat trade.
- Illegal pet trade.
They now occupy just 9% of territories they once lived in, and due to their vast ranges of up to 300 square miles, 77% of their habitat now lies outside of protected areas. This increasingly brings them into conflict with farmers who often view them as vermin and go on to shoot or poison them. In Zimbabwe, primarily due to changes in land tenure, Cheetah numbers have plummeted from approximately 1200 to 170 in just 16 years. Once widespread across Africa, they became extinct in over 20 countries on the continent and are now confined to predominantly isolated populations in parts of East, Central and South-Western Africa.
The picture is even more bleak for the Asiatic subspecies, reduced to a fragmented colony of less than 50 in Iran, having once roamed through India, Pakistan, Russia and the Middle East.
Their elusive nature has made them very difficult to study in detail and subsequently gather accurate population data from. This investigation is the most in-depth assessment of the species’ distribution ever undertaken and underlines the need for a fundamental shift in how they’re conserved in the future. The report’s authors conclude that community-based protection combined with more government involvement is the way forward, before time runs out for the Cheetah.