The fastest land mammal, the Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), has inopportunely experienced a population decrease of 30% over the last two decades with only 7100 individual adults remaining in the wild. A report done in late of 2016 calls for the cheetah to be reclassified on the IUCN Red list from a Vulnerable species to Endangered due to the alarming decline of the species.
Cheetah on A Termite Mound – Tsavo East National Park
Threats the Cheetah is facing
Like other wildlife in Africa, the cheetah’s territory is outside protected areas where they face several challenges resulting to their decline.
- Habitat loss due to an ever increasing human population resulting to poor land use planning thus destroying the open grassland which is the main territorial habitat for the cheetahs.
- Animals they prey on are been hunted by humans for bush meat. The cheetah, with fewer alternatives is consequently forced to encounter conflicts with farmers as they now prey on their livestock resulting to cheetah killings in retaliation by the farmers. Game hunting in the 20th Century also resulted to a decline in the numbers.
- Poaching for their spotted coat fur.
- Young cheetahs are captured for sale as pets in the illegal exotic pet trade across Middle East and Asian countries.
Did you know that there are 5 subspecies of cheetah?
Subspecies of cheetah:
- Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus)
- Northwest African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki)
- South African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus)
- NorthEast African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii)
- East African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus fearsoni)
Cheetahs have undergone inbreeding over the centuries following a genetic bottleneck during the last ice age period. This made the species predisposed to:
- A low sperm count even though they are induced ovulators breeding throughout the year
- Motility and a deformed flagella despite them having a litter of up to 8 within a gestation period of 3 months
- Prone to disease such as scabies which kills many cheetahs in the wild.
- Difficulty in captive breeding presenting a high mortality rate due to still births, cannibalism, neglect of cubs by the mothers, infectious disease and hypothermia. They are also poor breeders in captivity.
These factors may make it challenging for scientists, biologists and concerned parties to increase the population at a faster rate compared to others felines and herbivores. Hence, the species, being given a higher protection status as endangered, may slow down the rate at which they are declining as we focus more on reducing the threats impeding the cheetah population.