Chee­tahs ‘sprint­ing’ to­wards ex­tinc­tion: Wildlife study ‘Se­cur­ing pro­tected ar­eas alone is not enough’

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Chee­tahs are “sprint­ing” to ex­tinc­tion due to habi­tat loss and other forms of hu­man im­pact, ac­cord­ing to a new study out this week which called for ur­gent ac­tion to save the world’s fastest land an­i­mals. Chee­tah num­bers in Zim­babwe have plunged by more than 85 per­cent in 16 years and fewer than 50 in­di­vid­u­als sur­vive in Iran, the Zo­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Lon­don (ZSL) and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety (WCS) warned. The re­port’s au­thors said chee­tahs should be listed as “En­dan­gered” in­stead of “Vul­ner­a­ble” on the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture’s (IUCN) Red List of Threat­ened Species. The study pub­lished in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ences, es­ti­mated that just 7,100 chee­tahs re­main in the wild, oc­cu­py­ing just nine per­cent of the ter­ri­tory they once lived in.

“The chee­tah is sprint­ing to­wards the edge of ex­tinc­tion and could soon be lost for­ever un­less ur­gent, land­scape-wide con­ser­va­tion ac­tion is taken,” ZSL said in a state­ment. There were an es­ti­mated 100,000 chee­tahs at the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, ac­cord­ing to previous es­ti­mates. “Given the se­cre­tive na­ture of this elu­sive cat, it has been dif­fi­cult to gather hard in­for­ma­tion on the species, lead­ing to its plight being over­looked,” said Sarah Du­rant, the re­port’s lead au­thor and project leader for the Range wide Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gram for Chee­tah and African Wild Dog.

“Our find­ings show that the large space re­quire­ments for chee­tah, cou­pled with the com­plex range of threats faced by the species in the wild, meant that it is likely to be much more vul­ner­a­ble to ex­tinc­tion than was pre­vi­ously thought,” she said. Chee­tahs travel widely in search of prey with some home ranges es­ti­mated at up to 3,000 square kilo­me­ters (1,158 square miles). The study found that 77 per­cent of the an­i­mal’s re­main­ing habi­tat falls out­side pro­tected ar­eas, leav­ing it es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to hu­man in­ter­fer­ence. The main risks are hu­mans hunt­ing their prey, habi­tat loss, il­le­gal traf­fick­ing of chee­tah parts and the ex­otic pet trade, ac­cord­ing to the study.

Du­rant hailed re­cent com­mit­ments taken by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing on stem­ming the flow of live cats from the Horn of Africa re­gion. “We’ve just hit the re­set but­ton in our un­der­stand­ing of how close chee­tahs are to ex­tinc­tion,” said Kim YoungOver­ton, from the wild cat con­ser­va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion Pan­thera. “Se­cur­ing pro­tected ar­eas alone is not enough. We must think big­ger, con­serv­ing across the mo­saic of pro­tected and un­pro­tected land­scapes that these far-reach­ing cats in­habit,” she said. —AFP

NAMBIA: This file photo shows a cap­tive chee­tah lick­ing her si­b­ling in an en­clo­sure at the Chee­tah Con­ser­va­tion Fund in Otji­warongo, Namibia.

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