You may have a mental picture of the beautiful cheetah running wild across the plains—that would have been accurate 20 years ago, before regional disputes hemmed the fastest cat in the world in.
The Guardian reports that environmentalists are pushing to have cheetahs moved from the “vulnerable” list to “endangered” status, and when you look at the numbers, it’s pretty clear why:
Scientists estimate that only 7,100 of the fleet-footed cats remain in the wild, occupying 9% of the territory they once lived in. Asiatic populations have been hit the hardest, with fewer than 50 surviving in Iran, according to an investigation led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Take Zimbabwe, where the cheetah population fell from about 1,200 to, at most, only 170 animals within 16 years. That’s a decline of 85%, and scientists attribute it to the cheetah’s need for space and their inherent mystery. Relatively little information is known about them, but is it confirmed that they are the most wide-ranging carnivore. With such a need for expansive space, it’s estimated that 77% of their habitat falls outside of protected areas.
Dr Kim Young-Overton, from wild cat conservation group Panthera, told the Guardian that the cheetah has been overlooked as a species in need of protection because of its wandering feet, and it will require concerted efforts from many different sectors to turn things around. She says, “We must think bigger, conserving across the mosaic of protected and unprotected landscapes that these far-reaching cats inhabit, if we are to avert the otherwise certain loss of the cheetah forever.”