Should Cheetahs Be Listed as Endangered?

Fewer cheetahs exist in the wild than previously thought, according to a new study. And if the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, doesn’t list them as “endangered” soon, scientists doubt we’ll be able to save these big cats.

An international team of 17 researchers, in cooperation with the National Geographic Society’s “Big Cats Initiative,” says that the IUCN doesn’t go far enough when it lists the cheetah as a “vulnerable” species. If we don’t correct their status and kickstart some serious conservation measures, we may lose this majestic species forever.

In December 2017, the research team released a new study in the journal “PeerJ,” updating cheetah population numbers in their largest remaining locale, southern Africa. The results were concerning and disappointing.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

The team reviewed more than two million separate items of scientific data. On top of that, they examined 20,000 “crowdsourced”  observations noted by tourists visiting southern Africa between 2010 and 2016.

Based on this information, the researchers determined that only about 3,577 free-ranging adult cheetahs remain in all of Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. A remote buffer area of similar size — about 305,000 acres — could support a further 3,250 cheetahs. Of course, that latter number is purely an estimate.

“We have a larger degree of certainty in the lower estimate because it is based on those areas where we have recorded estimates of cheetahs,” study co-lead author Varsha Vijay told National Geographic. “There is greater uncertainty in the higher estimate because it assumes the very optimistic scenario that all the areas we identified as potential cheetah habitat are occupied by cheetahs at similar densities to the areas with confirmed cheetah presence.”

Thus, the study concludes, at best there are only about 6,800 cheetahs in all of southern Africa. This estimate is 11 percent lower than numbers the IUCN used to categorize cheetahs as “vulnerable.” Clearly, the IUCN needs to reassess its decision. The researchers noted:

We suggest that this population is more threatened than believed due to the concentration of about 55% of free-ranging individuals in two ecoregions. This area overlaps with commercial farmland with high persecution risk; adult cheetahs were removed at the rate of 0.3 individuals per 100 km per year.

The cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal. It hunts smaller hooved animals such as wildebeest calves, gazelles and impalas. When they have enough food and habitat available, cheetahs can live for 10 to 20 years. Unfortunately, human development and expansion into their range limits the cheetah’s ability to live and hunt as it once did.

As recently as 1900, there were 100,000 cheetahs across a range that extended from South Africa to India. By 1975, there were only 15,000. Since then, their numbers continue to dwindle.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

These big cats been hunted down and pushed out of their natural habitat by human development. Cheetahs now live only in eastern, central and southwestern Africa and Iran. Globally, they are now confined to only 9 percent of their historical range.

Internationally recognized “protected areas” make up less than 20 percent of the cheetah’s range. In southern Africa, that means private landowners and local farmers must find a way to coexist with the cheetahs living on their property. And it’s often a contentious situation.

“The future of the cheetah relies heavily on working with farmers who host these big cats on their lands, bearing the heaviest cost of coexistence,” Florian Weise of the Claws Conservancy and study co-lead author told Science Daily.

Once the IUCN up-lists the cheetah to “endangered” status, a number of other conservation efforts can take place. More funding would  become available, and the crackdown on selling cheetahs as pets in Africa and the Middle East could ramp up significantly. International governments would also have to begin the lengthy process of creating legislation to better conserve the cheetah — but this could take up to 10 years to happen.

This time lag is, in part, why the research team says it’s critical that the IUCN moves swiftly to recognize the cheetah as more than just a “vulnerable” species. The species needs to be listed as endangered as soon as possible.

An “endangered” listing “puts them on the agenda,” Weise told National Geographic. “It’s a red flag there is a problem.”

And it’s clearly a problem if only 6,800 cheetahs remain. IUCN, let’s do something about that.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

57 comments

Marie W
Marie W6 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Lesa D
Lesa D3 months ago

#60863 petition signed...

thank you Susan...

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Jessica C
Jessica C5 months ago

yes!

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Celine Russo
Celine Russo5 months ago

Everyone is going extinct.

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Muff-Anne Y

Petition signed.

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christine s
christine s6 months ago

Yes of course they should.

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Helene L
Helene L6 months ago

Loredana V...exactly my thoughts.

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Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga6 months ago

yes

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Loredana V
Loredana V6 months ago

Every species is endangered because of one dangerous species: ours. Signed and shared

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Winn A
Winnie A6 months ago

Thanks

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