Need for a speedy recovery

Allison Cook, Assistant Editor in Chief

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 Used with Permission/Wiki Commons/Brocken Inaglory

 

A mother cheetah and her two cubs watch for predators at the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area in Tanzania. Cubs stay with their mother for the first one and a half to two years years of their lives. During this time they will learn to hunt, according to “National Geographic.”

As fast as they run, they could be gone.

Known as “the world’s fastest land animal,” the iconic cheetah is very much at risk. With as few as 10,000 left in the wild, this small and slender big cat is labeled as “vulnerable” and on the brink of extinction.

Despite the efforts of many organizations – including Defenders of Wildlife, the Cheetah Conservation Fund and the African Wildlife Foundation – the future of the cheetah does not look bright.

“The cheetah’s future is uncertain due to a variety of threats,” according to Defenders of Wildlife.

These threats include habitat destruction, human -wildlife conflict and lack of genetic diversity. The former two are anthropogenic, or human-caused, issues, while the third is a biological issue.

According to “National Geographic,” “The wide-open grasslands they favor are disappearing at the hands of human settlers.”

Cheetahs, as well as their prey – which include small hoofed animals such as Thomson’s gazelle – need the open grasslands to run and eat. On top of this fact with less land means more human-wildlife interactions and conflicts.

“Roughly 90 percent of cheetahs in Africa live outside of protected lands on private farmlands and thus often come into conflict with people,” states the Cheetah Conservation Fund.

Luckily, organizations like Defenders have begun working with the farmers to come up with ways to reduce the interactions and avoid killing the endangered cats. For example, in the 1990s, Defenders educated livestock farmers in Namibia on some reduction strategies. One of these strategies included the use of guard dogs, which scare off the cheetahs.

Some may wonder why the cheetahs are not somehow kept on the protected lands.

“In protected areas like national parks and wildlife reserves, cheetahs do not fare well as these areas normally contain high densities of other larger predators like the lion, leopard and hyena, all of which compete with cheetahs for prey and will kill cheetahs given the opportunity,” states the Cheetah Conservation Fund. “In such areas, the cheetah cub mortality [rate] can be as high as 90 percent.”

Cubs face even more hardships genetically, too, since the lack of genetic diversity leads to abnormalities and many other problems for the species. According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, about 12,000 years ago there was a mass extinction that caused a bottleneck effect on the cheetah population, or a reduction in genetic diversity due to a decrease in population size. Just this fact alone can be a huge contributor to the African Wildlife Foundation’s facts that 50 to 75 percent of cubs die within a few months of their birth and that the population has decreased by more than 30 percent in the past 18 years.

Despite these declines, organizations are still pushing to keep the cheetah around.

“The cheetah’s future may look dim, but conservationists have been working to lessen the decline in some areas,” according to Defenders of Wildlife.

There are two “strongholds” for the population, according to the African Wildlife Foundation, in particular: Southern and Eastern Africa.

“Most wild cheetahs are found in Eastern and Southwestern Africa. Perhaps only 7,000 to 10,000 of these big cats remain,” reports “National Geographic.”

While cheetahs used to be found all throughout Africa and Asia, today the big cats are only found in parts of Africa (Eastern, Central and Southwestern, according to Defenders) and there is a small population – about 100 individuals – in a small portion of Iran. 

According to the African Wildlife Foundation, the cheetah’s home has been reduced to 76 percent of its historic range all over the world, and according to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, 23 percent of their historic range in Africa.

“There are only 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild, making the cheetah Africa’s most endangered big cat,” according to the Cheetah Conservation Fund.

Their numbers are not the only thing that make the cheetah different from the other big cats in Africa.

According to Defenders, “Unlike other big cats, cheetahs cannot roar. However, they can purr on both inhale and exhale, like domestic cats.”

On top of this fact, cheetahs are the smallest of the big cats. Their tan-colored coats with black spots all over, and their tear “stripes,” “tracks” or “lines” that start are at the corner of each eye and end around the sides of the nose, paint the picture of the iconic cheetah.

“[Cheetahs are] also the only cat that cannot retract [their] claws, an adaptation to help maintain traction like a soccer player’s cleats,” says the African Wildlife conservation.

This adaptation is specifically to help the cheetah when it reaches high speeds in a very short amount of time and sustain it as it chases its prey.

According to “National Geographic,” “With acceleration that would leave most automobiles in the dust, a cheetah can go from 0 to 60 miles (96 kilometers) an hour in only three seconds. These big cats are quite nimble at high speeds and can make quick and sudden turns in pursuit of prey.”

Now is not the time to let the cheetah run its way to extinction. Like any other endangered species, contributing to organizations that strive to help the animal, advocating and staying informed are some of the best ways to help any animal take one paw step away from extinction.

It is a wild world worth saving.

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2015-05-21 08:47:19

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