Are Cheetahs In Peril? Numbers Decline As They Head Toward Extinction

First Posted: Dec 28, 2016 03:30 AM EST

Cheetahs, the fastest mammals on land, are heading toward extinction as their population declines, a new study says.

The population of the sleek and speedy cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is rapidly declining with just an estimated 7,100 of them left in the wild, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Now, conservationists are sounding alarm bells, saying that cheetahs are in peril because they thrive far beyond protected areas. Also, over the past years, they are coming increasingly into conflict with humans.

The study, led by Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Panthera and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), shows that cheetahs have been driven out of 91 percent of its historic range. In fact, Asiatic cheetah populations have been the most affected, with fewer than 50 remaining in one area in Iran.

According to BBC News, about 77 percent of their habitat falls outside protected lands and reserves. Thus, the animal struggles because these lands are being developed by farmers.

One of the reasons for the population decline is human development. The habitat of cheetahs decreased from a historical range, totaling about 13 million square miles (33,056,767 square kilometers) before the 1900s to only 280,000 square miles (724,514 square kilometers) today.

In Zimbabwe, the population of cheetahs decreased from 1,200 to just 170 individuals in 16 years. Because of the significant decline, the authors of the study are urging that the cheetah is listed from 'Vulnerable' to 'Endangered' on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

"This study represents the most comprehensive analysis of cheetah status to date. 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," Dr. Sarah Durant, Project Leader for the Rangewide Conservation Program for Cheetah and African Wild Dog, said in a press release by Panthera.

"Our findings show that the large space requirements for cheetah, coupled with the complex range of threats faced by the species in the wild, mean that it is likely to be much more vulnerable to extinction than was previously thought," she added.

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