Uncontrolled African population growth, hunting in Asia, and Gulf State demand for ornamental baby cubs are together driving the world’s cheetah population to extinction, a new report by the Zoological Society of London, Panthera, and the Wildlife Conservation Society has revealed.
There are currently only about 7,100 cheetahs left on the planet, the report said, adding that the animal has been “wiped out” in the Middle East, and more than half remain in six countries in southern Africa.
The report authors are calling for an urgent re-categorization of the species from “vulnerable” to “endangered.”
According to the study, more than half the world’s surviving cheetahs live in one population that ranges across six countries in southern Africa, and cheetahs in “Asia have been essentially wiped out” with only one group estimated to number fewer than 50 animals remaining in Iran.
In Zimbabwe, the cheetah population has fallen from around 1,200 to just 170 animals in 16 years, the report said.
In addition, a booming illegal trade in cheetah cubs is being driven by their status as a “fashion icon in the Gulf states.”
The young cats can fetch up to $10,000 on the black market. According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, some 1,200 cheetah cubs are known to have been trafficked out of Africa over the past 10 years but around 85 percent of them died during the journey.
“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 Dr. Sarah Durant, from the Zoological Society of London, UK, and the report’s lead author.
“Our findings show that the large space requirements for the 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.”
The new study argues for a “paradigm shift in conservation,” moving away from the idea of just declaring an area to be protected and toward incorporating “incentive-based approaches.” This, in essence, means paying “local communities” to protect a species that many see as a dangerous predator.
“The take-away from this pinnacle study is that securing protected areas alone is not enough,” said Dr. Kim Young-Overton from Panthera, a report author.
“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.”