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The cheetah is the fastest land animal, with an estimated speed of 50 – 80 miles per hour (mph) or 80 – 128 kilometers per hour (km/h).
Unfortunately, the population of this iconic big cat might be dwindling at an even faster rate. That’s despite heightened conservation efforts in the last couple of years.
Read on as we reveal the estimated number of cheetahs in the world and where you can find them.
How Many Cheetahs Are There In The World?
The cheetah is currently listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s list of threatened species. According to the IUCN, there are 6,517 African cheetahs and fewer than 50 Asian cheetahs left in the world.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund Canada puts the remaining cheetah population at around 7100, slightly higher than the IUCN’s estimates.
Despite the somewhat conflicting figures in the number of cheetahs among various animal conservation groups, one thing is for sure – the global cheetah population has been on a consistent decline over the last century.
For comparison, there were approximately 100,000 cheetahs in the world in 1900, spread throughout 44 countries in Africa and Asia. This number reduced to a paltry 40,000 in 1960. And fifteen years later, the global cheetah population had dipped even further to under 20,000.
Why Is The Cheetah Population Dwindling So Fast?
Numerous reasons are attributable to the runaway decline in the global cheetah population, as explained below;
1. Human-Wildlife Conflict
This is arguably the biggest reason the global cheetah population seems to be dwindling so fast.
A significant percentage of wild cheetahs inhabit lands owned by farmers or ranchers. And since these big cats are essentially obligate carnivores, the logic is that they’re a major risk to livestock.
Unbeknownst to many farmers, cheetahs pose far less danger to livestock than other big cats like lions and leopards.
2. Trophy Hunting
Rhinos and elephants have probably borne the brunt of wildlife trophy hunting in the last couple of years. However, a good number of cheetahs are also hunted for sports trophies.
The good news is that many jurisdictions have since passed punitive laws against wildlife trophy hunting. Still, the practice persists in some areas. And for a threatened species like the cheetah, a single death is one too many.
Poaching may have become a foreign term in many countries with robust animal protection laws. But just like trophy hunting, the practice still thrives under the radar of authorities, with the cheetah being one of the most widely poached big cats.
Cheetahs are mainly poached for their skin and fur. Some poachers also hunt down these cats and then smuggle them to countries where they’re illegally kept as pets.
4. Habitat Destruction
Cheetahs roamed nearly the entire Africa as well as eastern India and the Arabian Peninsula at some point. This is no longer the case.
Due to human population pressure, much of the cheetah’s natural habitat has since been destroyed. These ecosystems are now covered by human settlements, urban centers, factories, and roads.
Climate change has also played a huge role in depleting the cheetah’s habitat. The lush savanna grasslands once inhabited by cheetahs have now turned into arid lands.
5. Prey Reduction
Most animal conservation initiatives target endangered big cats like the cheetah. Interestingly, not much effort is dedicated to the cheetah’s primary sources of food, which include antelopes, gazelles, warthogs, and gnus.
Most animals that cheetahs commonly prey on roam freely in unprotected ecosystems. The fact that these animals are generally easier to kill by humans further complicates the situation for the cheetah population.
6. Competition for Food
The cheetah may be the fastest land animal on the planet. But he’s not the fiercest of the big cats.
When a cheetah nails prey, he has to gobble it down fast before the competition comes along. And in most cases, there will always be another hyena, leopard, or lion laying claim to the cheetah’s well-earned food. Note that all these other three cats excel the cheetah in size, strength, and ferocity.
7. High Mortality Rate
Cheetahs have one of the highest mortality rates among big cats. While a cheetah can give birth to up to eight cubs, only three in the litter will make it to adulthood.
The biggest threat to cheetah cubs is predation by other carnivores, such as hyenas and coyotes. Some predatory animals like lions will kill cheetah cubs to reduce future competition for prey.
Where Can You See The Available Cheetahs?
Most wild cheetahs are found in game parks and animal reserves spread throughout eastern, southern, and parts of central Africa. They include;
• The Masai Mara – Serengeti Ecosystem in Kenya and Tanzania
• Lewa Downs in Kenya
• Ruaha National Park in Tanzania
• Kafue National Park in Zambia
• The Okavango Delta in Botswana
• Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana
• Etosha National Park in Namibia
• Okonjima in Namibia
There’s also a decent population of cheetahs in private reserves in South Africa, especially in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.
Lastly, the Asian cheetah is mostly found in protected areas in Iran, including Kavir National Park, Touran National Park, and Naybandan Wildlife Reserve.
The cheetah is generally considered threatened, with the Asian variety appearing on IUCN’s list of critically endangered species for years.
Numerous strides have been made to ensure the cheetah population bounces back to what it was a few centuries ago. However, there’s still a need for animal conservation groups to step up their efforts if we are to pull back one of nature’s most iconic cats from the brink of extinction.