Amid population declines for many wildlife species in Africa, conservationists are sounding alarm bells for the cheetah, the fastest animal on land.
An estimated 7,100 cheetahs remain in the wild across Africa and in a small area of Iran, and human encroachment has pushed the wide-ranging predator out of 91 per cent of its historic habitat, according to a study published on Monday.
Consequently, the cheetah should be defined as ‘endangered’ instead of the less serious ‘vulnerable’ on an official watch list of threatened species worldwide, the study said.
“This period is really crunch time for species like cheetah that need these big areas,” said Sarah Durant, a cheetah specialist at the Zoological Society of London and the lead author of the report published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
About 77 per cent of cheetah habitats fall outside wildlife reserves and other protected areas, the study said, requiring outreach to governments and villages to promote tolerance for a carnivore that sometimes hunts livestock.
Besides habitat loss, cheetahs face attacks from villagers, loss of antelope and other prey that are killed by people, an illegal trade in cheetah cubs, and trafficking of cheetah skins.
A cheetah has been recorded running at a speed of 29 metres per second. The species may move more slowly while hunting and it can only maintain top speeds for a few hundred metres.
More than half of the world’s cheetahs live in southern Africa, including in Namibia and Botswana, which have relatively sparse human populations. Cheetahs have been virtually wiped out in Asia, according to the study, whose contributors included the Panthera group and the Wildlife Conservation Society.