Chee­tah num­bers in alarm­ing de­cline as African habi­tat shrinks

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By ASSOCIATED PRESS in Johannesburg

Amid pop­u­la­tion de­clines for many wildlife species in Africa, con­ser­va­tion­ists are sound­ing alarm bells for the chee­tah, the fastest an­i­mal on land.

An es­ti­mated 7,100 chee­tahs re­main in the wild across Africa and in a small area of Iran, and hu­man en­croach­ment has pushed the wide-rang­ing preda­tor out of 91 per­cent of its his­toric habi­tat, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished on Mon­day.

Con­se­quently, the chee­tah should be de­fined as “en­dan­gered” in­stead of the less se­ri­ous “vul­ner­a­ble” on an of­fi­cial watch list of threat­ened species world­wide, the study said.

“This pe­riod is re­ally crunch time for species like chee­tah that need these big ar­eas,” said Sarah Du­rant, a chee­tah spe­cial­ist at the Zoo­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Lon­don and the lead au­thor of the re­port pub­lished in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Acad­emy of Sciences.

About 77 per­cent of chee­tah habi­tats fall out­side wildlife re­serves and other pro­tected ar­eas, the study said, re­quir­ing out­reach to gov­ern­ments and vil­lages to pro­mote tol­er­ance for a car­ni­vore that some­times hunts live­stock.

Be­sides habi­tat loss, chee­tahs face at­tacks from vil­lagers, loss of an­te­lope and other prey that are killed by peo­ple for their meat, an il­le­gal trade in chee­tah cubs, the traf­fick­ing of chee­tah skins and the threat of get­ting hit by ve­hi­cles.

A chee­tah has been recorded run­ning at a speed of 29 me­ters per sec­ond. The species may move more slowly while hunt­ing and it can only main­tain top speeds for a few hun­dred me­ters.

More than half of the world’s chee­tahs live in south- ern Africa, in­clud­ing in Namibia and Botswana, which have rel­a­tively sparse hu­man pop­u­la­tions. Chee­tahs have been vir­tu­ally wiped out in Asia, save for fewer than 50 in Iran, ac­cord­ing to the study, whose con­trib­u­tors in­cluded the Pan­thera group and the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety.

In Zim­babwe, the pop­u­la­tion de­clined from an es­ti­mated 1,500 in 1999 to be­tween 150 and 170, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted be­tween 2013 and 2015.

Du­rant said there was un­cer­tainty over the 7,100 num­ber, which was based on data from ex­perts in ar­eas where chee­tahs live and es­ti­mates for other ar­eas. Chee­tahs are dif­fi­cult to find be­cause they move over vast re­gions, she said.

Du­rant also led a pre­vi­ous as­sess­ment of nearly 6,700 chee­tahs pub­lished last year by the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture, which keeps a watch list of threat­ened species. Since then, ex­perts have pro­vided new in­for­ma­tion and re­fined count­ing meth­ods, con­trast­ing with rough es­ti­mates in the 10,000range in re­cent decades.

De­spite habi­tat loss across the con­ti­nent, the Mara area in south­west Kenya and in the ad­ja­cent Serengeti Na­tional Park in Tan­za­nia still of­fers a refuge, said Femke Broekhuis, head of the Mara Chee­tah Project. Re­cent data from a GPS col­lar on one Mara chee­tah showed that it trav­eled 19 kilo­me­ters overnight, she said.

Chee­tahs of­ten roam alone, though on Mon­day morn­ing Broekhuis saw a rare sight: five male chee­tahs, to­gether.

This pe­riod is re­ally crunch time for species like chee­tah that need these big ar­eas.” Sarah Du­rant, spe­cial­ist at the Zoo­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Lon­don

RADU SIGHETI / REUTERS

A chee­tah and her cubs in the Ma­sai Mara game re­serve in Kenya. A new study says the big cat should now be con­sid­ered “en­dan­gered”.

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