The Cheetah or Acinonyx jubatus by Max Doerfler

The animal I chose to research is the cheetah (common name) or Acinonyx jubatus (scientific name). Since the cheetah population has continuously declined over the last 100 years the Cheetah has been listed as vulnerable since 1986 when its population was assessed by the IUCN for the first time. In 1900 there were more than 100,000 nowadays according to the IUCN and the AWF only about 7,000 are left. This population decreases has largely been an effect of habitat loss and fragmentation; killing and capture of Cheetahs due to livestock depredation; and loss of prey. Illegal trade probably also has an impact on some reasons, mainly the horn of Africa. The rate of cheetah population increase has increased in the late 20th century and 21st century leading to a 22% population decrease over the last 3 generations (1 cheetah generation is approximately 5 years).

Cheetahs have long, slim, muscular legs; a small, rounded head set on a long neck; a flexible spine; a deep chest; special pads on its feet for traction; and a long tail for balance. The cheetah is also the only cat that cannot retract its claws as it uses them for traction like a soccer players cleats. The cheetah has a golden fur with circa 2,000 dark spots varying between individual animal and subspecies.

Cheetahs Geographic range is extremely limited today compared to their historic range. In Asia they are only found in the central deserts of Iran and in Africa they are only found in 10% of their historic range. Their total range today is 2,709,054 km2 which is compared to their historic range of 25,344,648 km2 a decline of 89%.

The current cheetah population is estimated at 6674 mature individuals which are split up into 29 sub populations across Africa and the Iranian deserts. The cheetah population trend is currently declining since their habitat keeps getting destroyed and there are is no major conservation effort made. Another factor that contributes to the decline of the cheetah population is the fact that 76% of the known cheetah range is unprotected land.

There are many threats to cheetahs which is indicated by their sharp decline over the past century. The biggest threats to cheetahs is loss of habitat. Since cheetah live in very low densities (max 2 individuals per 100 km2) they require a lot of habitat which makes them vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation. They are also sometimes killed by farmers in retaliation for killing livestock. Cheetahs generally prefer wild prey but sometimes kill livestock under certain circumstances. Another threat to cheetahs is loss of prey and conflict with hunters since they are seen as competitors by many game hunters. High speed roads are also dangerous for cheetahs and account for 11 out of 27 cheetah mortalities in Asia in 2011. Tourism can also threaten cheetahs as there have been reports of tourists getting to close and scaring cheetahs away from a kill or separating cubs from their mother. A new threat that is just emerging is the increased resource extraction and infrastructure development such as mining, oil, pipelines, and road development. A minor threat to cheetahs are hunters since there are only a few small cultures that value cheetahs in a spiritual way. The threats mentioned so far are only the immediate threats which are driven by the larger overarching threats that will have to be addressed once the immediate threats are dealt with. These drivers that cause and contribute to the immediate threats include political instability, lack of awareness, and rising human populations.

In Africa cheetahs are found in a wide variety of habitats ranging from dry forests and thick scrub to grassland and hyperarid deserts. The only habitat they haven’t been seen are tropical forests and montane forests. In Asia cheetahs are only found in deserts. Cheetahs almost never scavenge and are primarily active during the day to avoid competition from lions and hyenas which are often seen stealing cheetahs kills. They are the fastest land mammal and have reached speeds of up 113 km/h but are mostly slower when hunting prey as they have to avoid obstacles. Cheetahs have a very unique social organization as females are usually alone or accompanied by pups dependent on them. Females also try to mate with as many males as possible and show no mate fidelity. Males are usually also alone or in stable groups of up to 3 individuals mostly consisting of brothers. Wild cheetahs lifespan has been recorded to be 14 years for females and 10 years for males.

Cub mortality varies greatly in different regions and is the highest in the first 2 months. If the cubs survive they usually stay with their mother for 18 months before gaining independence. Cheetahs fight for territories very rarely since the population is so low and the males often form small groups. Male cheetahs usually don't move and stay in their habitat of about 100 km2 per individual. On the other hand females are known to follow herds in areas where prey migrates.

Cheetahs affect the overall ecosystem and biodiversity in their habitat by keeping animal populations of their prey in check and by providing food to scavengers that don’t hunt by themselves. Cheetahs are known to lose up to 10% of their kills to other large carnivores in areas densely populated. Cheetahs hunt a wide variety of prey, their prey can be anything from ground-dwelling birds and small mammals to large ungulates such as wildebeest, kudu and eland. They favor mid-sized ungulates such as gazelle, kod, impala, and wild sheep. Cheetahs are primarily active during the day presumably to avoid competition for their kills. Cheetah cubs are also prey for hyenas and lions which are known to hunt cheetahs before they reach their full size and speed.

It is very hard to protect cheetahs since they live on such a big habitat range and populate it very scarcely. In Asia, Iran and Afghanistan both protect the cheetah and it is illegal to hunt or trade anything related to cheetahs. In Africa on the other hand the cheetah range is much more spread out over a lot more countries which makes it harder to protect. The plan in place to protect cheetahs is the Range Wide Conservation Program for Cheetah and African Wild Dogs (RWCP), which supports all countries that are willing in preserving the cheetah (and wild dogs) in doing so. The plan was developed using IUCN strategic planning strategies and is used by the following countries Kenya (2007), Botswana (2007), Ethiopia (2010), South Sudan (2009), Zambia (2009), Zimbabwe (2009), South Africa (2009), Benin (2014), Niger (2012), Chad (2015), Tanzania (2013), Mozambique (2010), Namibia (2013), and Uganda (2010). The brackets after the country's name indicate since when the country has taken measures to protect cheetahs. The countries listed cover 26 out of the 27 main cheetah population with Algeria being the last country to have a substantial cheetah population that is not under conservationist action. Despite these plans it is still legal in some of these countries to kill cheetahs in retaliation for livestock kills.

Despite growing efforts to protect the Cheetah they are still under immediate threat and the population is declining and will keep declining until the ultimate drivers of cheetah threats like increasing infrastructure development, human population increase and decreasing prey availability are dealt with.

Created By
Max Dörfler

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