The cheetah is widely known as the planet’s fastest land animal, but unknown to many, it is also Africa’s most threatened big cat. Today, there are estimated to be only 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild.
The State of the Cheetah
There are estimated to be only 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild, and their future remains uncertain across their range. Extinct in 25 countries and possibly extinct in a further 13 countries, cheetahs have vanished from approximately 91 percent of their historic range. They are extinct in Asia apart from a single, isolated population of perhaps 50 individuals in central Iran.
Cheetahs are listed as "Vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, but after a recent study revealed significant population declines, scientists are calling for cheetahs to be uplisted to "Endangered." In North Africa and Asia, they are considered "Critically Endangered."
The species is threatened by conflict with local people, the illegal wildlife trade, legal sport hunting, and loss of prey due to overhunting by people and agricultural land developments.
"I think my favorite fact about the cheetah is probably the calculation that showed that a legless cheetah could reach a speed of 15 kmh [9 mph] merely by ‘caterpillaring’- bunching and uncoiling its incredibly flexible spine. That’s about three times as fast as the typical walking speed of a human." - Dr. Luke Hunter, Chief Conservation Officer, Panthera
Cheetahs have been extirpated from 91% of their historic range due to threats including human-cheetah conflict.
Although cheetahs are the least dangerous of the big cats and cause relatively minor damage to livestock, herders—whose livelihoods depend on their livestock—nevertheless kill cheetahs to prevent predation or in retribution for livestock losses.
The high degree of persecution cheetahs face both inside and outside of protected areas has been largely unrecognized to date. As one of the world's most wide-ranging carnivores, 77% of the cheetah's habitat falls outside of protected areas, weakening the protection of law enforcement and amplifying the cheetah's vulnerability to human pressures. Even within guarded parks and reserves, cheetahs cannot escape human-wildlife conflict and the other threats to their survival.
Cheetah populations are profoundly affected by loss of prey due to overhunting by humans and the development of wild habitat for agricultural and other purposes.
Direct hunting in some parts of Africa for skins and legal sport hunting also contributes to cheetah population declines, as does the illegal trade in live cubs and adults, many of which die during transport.
Panthera’s Cheetah Program aims to protect cheetahs by addressing direct threats to them, their prey base, and their habitats. To do this, Panthera gathers critical ecological data by surveying and monitoring populations and their prey, collaborating with local law enforcement officials and partners, and working with local communities to mitigate conflict and create cheetah-positive landscapes within communities. Panthera’s approach to protecting cheetahs has a dual focus: developing a program in Africa that can eventually be expanded across the cheetah’s African range and focusing on the small remaining population of Asiatic cheetahs in Iran.
Head of Philanthropy, Emanuel J Friedman Philanthropies
Emanuel J Friedman Philanthropies is proud to partner with Panthera on its work to save the cheetah. Cheetah conservation is one of our core priorities, and Panthera’s collaborative approach fits perfectly with our strategic vision.