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Cheetah numbers plunging, fueling extinction fears

File photo of A cheetah observes the plains of the Masai Mara game reserve July 24, 2008. (REUTERS/Radu Sigheti)

The cheetah can sprint in the direction of extinction, according to wildlife experts, who warn that urgent measures are necessary for the conservation of the species.

A study published Monday by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the wild cat conservation group Panthera turns out that only 7,100 cheetahs remain in the wild.

Cheetahs are expelled from 91 percent of their historic range, according to the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The worst hit are the cheetah populations in Asia, where less than 50 persons remain in a part of Iran.

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Threats to the cheetah’s are overhunting, loss of habitat, illegal trade of animal parts, and the trade in exotic pets.

Against this background, it is the world’s fastest land animal is now faced with a very real threat of extinction, experts say. Zimbabwean cheetah population, for example, is deposited with a massive 85 per cent, the fall of 1200 cheetahs, up to a maximum of 170 animals of just 16 years.

“Given the secret nature of this elusive cat, it is difficult to gather hard information about the species, to the plight to be overlooked,” said Dr. Sarah Durant, the lead study author for ZSL and wcs, in a statement. “Our findings show that the large space requirements for cheetah, in combination with the complex range of threats facing the species in the wild, say that it is likely to be more vulnerable to extinction than was previously thought.”

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The authors of the study are pushing the cheetah to be “up-listed” from “vulnerable” to “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The change of the cheetah’s classification could increase the level of international support for the efforts and bring more attention to the challenges of the species.

As one of the world’s widest ranging carnivores, 77 percent of the cheetah’s habitat falls outside protected areas and may extend across national borders, which makes the protection more difficult.

The scientists now want to see a major shift in the cheetah conservation, includes “landscape-level” efforts that exceed the bounds, to be coordinated by the existing regional strategies.

“We need to think bigger, with the conservation of the mosaic of protected and unprotected landscapes that these radical cats inhabit, if we are to avoid the otherwise certain loss of the cheetah “for always,” said Panthera’s Cheetah Program Director, Dr. Kim Jong-Overton, in the statement.

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