The cheetah, which is the world’s fastest land animal, is now heading towards extinction. A recent study revealed that only 7100 cheetahs left in the world. The main reason for their declining population is habitat loss. The researchers revealed that almost 91 percent of the historical habitat has been occupied by the humans. The historical land range of cheetahs was about 13 million square miles (33,056,767 square kilometers) before 1900. The current land range of cheetahs is only about 280,000 square kilometers.
Cheetah’s distribution is well-documented in Zimbabwe. There were about 1200 individuals in 2000 and now in 2016; there are only 170 individuals left. The population of cheetahs is drastically decreasing. Until now the conservation status for cheetahs is vulnerable, which means that the specie is likely to become endangered. After the study, researchers are appealing IUCN to change the conservation status of cheetahs from vulnerable to endangered, which means that the specie is facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.
A lead study author and senior researcher Sarah Durant, with the wildlife conservation society (WCS) and Zoological Society of London said that the cheetahs are very sensitive about habitat loss due to their large space requirements. She told that the nature of cheetahs is very secretive thus it has been difficult to collect information about them. She said in a statement that “Our findings show that the large space requirements of cheetahs, 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.”
The threats that the cheetahs face are largely due to humans. These threats include habitat loss, exotic pet trade, illegal trafficking of cheetah parts and overhunting by people. Protected areas have been established to reduce these threats but about 77 percent of cheetah’s habitat falls outside the protected areas so due to the geographical complications, it becomes difficult to protect them. The study concludes that the protected areas alone are not enough and we must think bigger.
The detailed study paper was published online on December 26, 2016 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.