The cheetah – the world’s fastest land animal – is very close to being completely wiped out from the face of the Earth. Scientists estimate that only 7,100 cheetahs live in the wild. In Asia, only 50 remain in Iran according to a study by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The study says that half of the world’s surviving cheetahs live in one population that ranges across six countries in southern Africa.
In Zimbabwe, the numbers have plunged from 1,200 to 170 over a period of 16 years, a decline of 85%. Activists and scientists have urged the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species to raise its status from “vulnerable” to “endangered”.
The reason for this steep decline is the age-old human–animal conflict. The cheetah is a wide-ranging carnivore, meaning it roams outside its protected areas in search of food. As a result, 77% of their habitat falls outside parks and reserves making the animal vulnerable to humans and human-induced impact. As the world’s population increases, more land is being farmed and the cheetah’s prey is being hunted for bushmeat by human beings.
Illegal trafficking of cheetah parts and sale of cheetah cubs to be kept as exotic pets have also hurt the population say researchers in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’. The Cheetah Conservation Fund writes that 1,200 cheetah cubs have been smuggled out of Africa over the past 10 years with 85% of them having perished in the journey.
This has been a particularly bad year for animals. Elephants are going tuskless in a bid to thwart poachers; giraffes too are heading towards extinction. The only silver lining is that the giant panda has been downgraded from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Vulnerable’.