The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List recognizes the cheetah as a “vulnerable” species. On the other hand, some researchers now contend that cheetahs need to be escalated to the “endangered” status as soon as possible.
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After sifting through heaps of cheetah population data collected in Southern Africa between 2010-2016, an international team of 17 researchers found that there could be 11% fewer adult cheetahs in the wild than the IUCN currently acknowledges.
The findings, which relied heavily on crowd-sourced information and previous official records, have been published in the journal PeerJ this week and underscore the severity of the urgent situation surrounding these large cats.
Some of the most significant drivers behind their decline are conflicts with farmers who attempt to protect their livestock, reduction of natural prey in the wilderness, and habitat loss related to deforestation, among other things. Many of these issues prove challenging to tackle, but the researchers dug deeper to see what we could do about it.
After interviewing a plethora of local farmers in South Africa, almost half considered cheetahs to be a threat to their livestock. Furthermore, about 26.5% actively pursued the large cats when they unwelcomely wandered onto the farmers’ private lands. Typically, this meant trapping the large cats, but the cheetahs don’t always survive the pursuit, depending on the farmer.
Given the circumstances, the study underscores how spreading awareness about the cheetah’s current situation could help with conservation efforts. On the other hand, these efforts remain limited unless the IUCN recognizes these population declines and adjusts the species’ conservation status accordingly.
"The future of the cheetah relies heavily on working with farmers who host these big cats on their lands, bearing the heaviest cost of coexistence," noted Florian Weise with the claws conservancy.
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Working with the public and using verified crowd-sourced information in tandem with official record-keeping could provide a more cost-effective means of monitoring cheetah populations. Moreover, it could yield a more positive impact on ongoing conservation efforts.
On the other hand, saving the species from the brink of extinction will require effort from more than just 17 researchers; this is something all locals will need to pitch in on if we’re to realize a world where cheetah populations rebound.