If we don’t act now, soon there won’t be enough Cheetahs left to save, warns Dr Laurie Marker, founder and executive director of Namibia’s Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).
One hundred years ago, 100,000 Cheetahs roamed most of Africa and Asia. In 1975 there were 30,000 and in 2000, around 10,000. Most of us could see the decline of the Cheetah population in our lifetime. Today there are fewer than 7,500 remaining.
The main threats are habitat loss and loss of prey, human/wildlife conflict and the illegal pet trade. Cheetahs also suffer from a lack of genetic diversity which makes the situation even more serious. Since more than 80% of the remaining Cheetahs are found outside of protected areas, these populations are very vulnerable at the hands of humans.
Most reserves are not large enough for Cheetahs as they have vast home ranges (averaging 1500 sq.km) and therefor need large landscapes. In wildlife reserves there is competition over the limited territory, and the larger, more aggressive carnivores like lions and hyenas will steal the Cheetahs’ kills and can kill their cubs.
The CCF offers a training course for land users. The teach land-, livestock- and wildlife management how to maintain healthy grazing lands and the use of non-lethal predator control methods, such as livestock-guarding dogs. To maintain ecosystem balance, it is critical to put in place strategies such as those that encourage sustainable land use by humans while accommodating co-existence with predators.
There is also not adequate policing to stop the illegal cheetah trade. This is an issue that is only recently coming to the attention of the public. The CCF is working closely with CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and other NGO’s to make sure this problem is addressed.
Lack of genetic diversity makes cheetahs more vulnerable to ecological and environmental changes, and contributes to reproductive abnormalities. Both wild and captive Cheetahs lack reproductive viability, with all males tested to date showing up to 80% abnormal sperm.
Marion Whitehead developed the International Cheetah Studbook (ICS) in 1988 and has been its keeper ever since. It is a registry of all captive Cheetahs, dating back to the 1950’s and reports breeding lineages, all births and deaths, transfers between zoos and imports from the wild. Today there are approximately 1600 Cheetahs in captivity in 265 facilities around the world. Cheetahs do not breed well in captivity and it is a problem to maintain a viable captive population. Only about 150 cubs are born annually. The ICS also provides breeding recommendations to maximise the genetics of the population.
The CCF has returned more than 600 Cheetahs to the wild. About 10% were rehabilitated and the rest were released soon after being captured by farmers.
- The Cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal, reaching speeds of more than 110 km/h within three seconds. At top speed, its stride is seven meters long.
- Their semi-retractable claws are more than those of a dog than a cat, and act the same way as the cleats in running shoes. This gives the animal more traction when racing through the veld.
- The long, muscular tail acts as a rudder and enables the animal to make sharp turns at high speed.