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04 December, 2023
| Royal Malewane

Disappearing Fast – International Cheetah Day

Written by: The Royal Portfolio
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The cheetah – the world’s fastest land mammal – is caught up in a race against extinction. Here’s why – and what we’re doing to help these incredible predators.

A lot like cats, but not entirely, cheetah are always a highlight on game drives at Royal Malewane. We’re fortunate enough to see them ocasionally, but that’s sadly no longer the case in many other destinations.

A cheetah runs as fast as it can. A tree grows as tall as it can. Only humans choose to limit their growth – Justin Prince

Historically, cheetah were found in all parts of Africa (except rainforests), and throughout the Middle East and much of India. Today their range is much reduced, with strongholds in southern and East Africa, and isolated pockets elsewhere. In South Africa, they are now almost entirely restricted to protected areas.

Panthera, the NGO that works to preserve all types of wild cats, estimates that there may be as few as 7,100 cheetah left in the wild.

Without the purr of the cheetah, there will be no sun, only clouds – and certainly no rain – Running Wild Foundation

Threats to cheetahs

Cheetah require large areas of specific habitat types, with plentiful prey. Their continued existence is threatened by various human activities, including taking land for ranching and farming, urban sprawl, and poaching of the antelope species they typically hunt. Cheetah themselves are also targeted by poachers, and cheetah cubs may even be taken for the illegal trade in exotic pets. Where prey is scarce, cheetah may take livestock, leading to conflict with humans and persecution. Cheetah may also be killed or injured in road traffic incidents.

For a long time, it was thought that cheetah struggled in areas where other large predators were present – stronger animals like lion and hyena were believed to outcompete smaller, less aggressive cheetah. While modern research has shown that this is an over-simplification, translocations (for conservation purposes) of cheetah can fail where cheetah who have not previously been used to other predators, suddenly have to deal with them.

Fast Facts

  • The name ‘cheetah’ comes from the Hindi word ‘Chita’, meaning ‘spotted one’.
  • Cheetah can run at up to 120 km/h, but only for short distances.
  • Cheetah can accelerate to 75 km/h in just 2 seconds.
  • Unlike most other cats, cheetah do not have retractile claws. In this respect, they are more like dogs.

Saving the cheetah

Cheetah outside protected areas are most at risk, as they are more likely to come into conflict with farmers. The risks of human/cheetah conflict can be greatly reduced by better management of livestock, including simple measures like having dogs to guard livestock.

Because cheetah need large areas, saving them also involves helping many other species, so they make a great focus for conservation efforts. Preserving tracts of land is vital to the success of any conservation project.

Community upliftment projects – like the ones championed by The Royal Portfolio Foundation – create sustainable livelihoods and tackle the rural poverty that can lead to poaching.

When cheetah are moved to a new location for conservation purposes, there needs to be better management of these operations, including selecting cheetah to be moved on a genetic basis.

Improved monitoring of cheetah populations can contribute to our understanding of these remarkable big cats, and help us find better ways of ensuring that we can celebrate International Cheetah Day for many, many years to come.

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