Description of Acinonyx jubatus
In Asia, the cheetah has lost almost all its vast historic range, which within the last century extended from the shores of the Mediterranean and the Arabian peninsula, north to the northern shores of the Caspian and Aral Seas, and west through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan into central India (Nowell and Jackson 1996; Habibi 2004; Mallon 2007). Part of the reason for their disappearance in Asia is live captures of cheetahs, which were trained to hunt for the aristocracy (Divyabhanusingh, 1995). The main cause, however, was likely depletion of the wild prey base, especially gazelles, as well as direct killing of cheetahs and development of their habitat (Mallon, 2007). The Asiatic cheetah (A. j. venaticus) is now known to survive only in Iran, where it is Critically Endangered. Persistence in Pakistan is unlikely (Husain 2001). While Habibi (2004) considers it extinct in Afghanistan, a cheetah skin of unknown origin was found in a marketplace in western Afghanistan in 2007 (L. Hunter pers. comm.).
Southern and Eastern Africa are the species strongholds, although there has been significant range loss in parts of these regions. Cheetahs are known to occur only in 6% of their historical range in Eastern Africa (310,586 km²), and possibly occur in another 892,658 km² (Anon. 2007). Current distribution in several countries remains largely unknown (Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Angola, Mozambique and Zambia). Cheetahs are known to be extirpated from large areas in Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi (Anon. 2007, 2008). In some parts of southern Africa they occur extensively outside protected areas on commercial ranch land where other large predators (lions and hyenas) have been extirpated (Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe) (Purchase et al. 2007).
Cheetahs have declined most drastically in northern and western Africa (Ray et al. 2005). The subspecies (A. j. heckii) is listed as Critically Endangered; see subspecies account for detailed information on northwest Africa.
Cheetah persistence in the eastern Sahara is unlikely.
Cheetahs are possibly extinct in Libya. Specimens were previously collected near the Egyptian border (northeastern part of the country), in Dahra, Sirtica (north-central), Bir Ghazal and Hamada-el-Homra (northwestern). Other records include Fezzan, Khor-el-Gifa, Gikherra (eastern), El Ftaia (near coastal area) and Mizda (Hufnagl 1972). Myers (1975) mentioned that cheetahs were noted in Niger/Libyan borders as well as Niger/Algerian borders. An inquiry with local Tuaregs suggested that the species might not longer be present in Akoukas Mountains (J.-L. Bernezat pers. comm. 2007).
In Tunisia, cheetahs were formerly reported to roam in sandy expanses south of Chott-el-Djerid, the desert areas south of Foum Tatahouine and the Grand Erg Occidental and its surroundings (Schomber and Kock 1960). There are no recent records on the species in the country which make it presumably extinct. The El-Borma region, near the Algerian boundaries, was probably among the areas where cheetahs have last been seen in 1974 and documented (Louis 1979).
As far as Egypt is concerned, data collated during the last few decades suggest that cheetahs are extremely rare, if not extinct, in the country. Osborn and Helmy (1980) provided original and literature-based records from the Matrouh Governorate and Sinai. According to Saleh et al. (2001), cheetahs became extinct from most of the Mediterranean coastal region and easily accessible inland habitats of El-Maghra and Siwa oases one decade after being widely distributed in the northern Egyptian Western Desert until the 1970s. The main reasons explaining cheetah extirpation have been attributed to extensive and uncontrolled hunting and the development of coastal lands (Saleh et al. 2001). If not completely vanished, the species is believed to be confined, with a very low density, to the Western Desert and around the Qattara Depression (Saleh et al., 2001; Hoath, 2003). Recent records from North Sinai, including one female and three cubs killed by Bedouin hunters in 1993, as well as one female seen with two cubs in November 1994, have not been verified (Hoath 2003).
In the eastern Sahel and central Africa, there is little current information:
Current cheetah distribution in most of its historic range in Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia are unknown (Anon. 1997). In Chad, although cheetahs were still present and seen occasionally in Ouadi Rime-Ouadi Achim in the 1970s (J. Newby pers. comm. 2008). A recent wildlife survey in western and central Chad, including Ouadi Rime-Ouadi Achim Faunal Reserve, conducted by the Sahelo-Saharan Interest Group in 2001, failed to detect any cheetah presence in the region (Monfort et al. 2003). In the Central Saharan (northern) part of the country, cheetahs still occur, in very low density, in and around the Ennedi Massif (J. Newby pers. comm. 2008 based on Rava’s pers. comm.). There is no information on previously reported populations in the Tibesti Mountains (Central Sahara). In southeastern Chad, cheetahs may still survive to date in Zakouma National Park (population still present in the protected area as of 2006 [N. Vanherle pers. comm. 2008]).
In central Africa, current cheetah distribution in the savanna regions of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, and Democratic Republic of Congo is unknown (Marker 2002). It is considered extinct in Rwanda and Burundi, and possibly extinct in Nigeria. Rosevear (1974) underlined the paucity of positive records for Nigeria and mentioned Lake Chad, Yan Tumaki (Katsina Division) and possibly Bauchi Plateau as localities for three specimens kept in the British Museum. Happold (1987) raised the possibility of their occurrence near Cameroonian boundaries, and also in the Yankari Game Reserve (Happold 1987). Recent reports from protected area managers and wildlife traders indicate that a threatened small cheetah population may still range in restricted areas in north-centre and northeastern parts of the country (R. Ikemeh pers. comm. 2008).
Distribution in Egypt
Localized (Qattara depression and neighboring desert)
Currently, the cheetah is found in sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Iran.
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
Africa to India
In Hindi cheetah means "spotted one." The base color of the upper parts of an adult is tawny to bale bluff or grayish white, and the underparts are paler, often white. The coat is marked by round or oval black spots measuring .75 to 1.5 in. in diameter. The only exception to this is when recessive genes are inherited from both parents resulting in a more "blotchy" coat pattern. Cheetahs exhibiting this rare mutation were once thought to be a separate subspecies, but it is now known that they can appear in a litter of normal cheetahs. Only the white of the throat and the abdomen are unmarked with spots. The coat is coarse with the hair slightly longer at the nape than elswhere. The last third of the tail is marked by four to six black rings and a bushy white tuft at the very end. The tail rings are distinctive on each cheetah and enable individual identification. The cheetah has a small head with short ears, high set eyes and a black line which looks like a tear drop running from the inner aspect of each eye down to the mouth. The teeth are small and the nasal passages are large. The body resembles that of a greyhound and is slim with very long legs. An adult cheetah measures 67 to 94 cm. tall at the shoulder, and is 121 to 150 cm. in length, with an additional 70 to 81 cm. in tail length. The cheetah exhibits slight sexual dimorphism with the males being the larger sex.
The cheetah is the fastest terrestrial mammal with a speed range up to 71 mph. This top speed can only be maintained for roughly 275 meters. The cheetah moves foward roughly seven to eight meters in a single stride and completes four strides per second. Cheetah paws are less rounded and harder than most cats; this aids the cheetah in making quick turns. The claws are only semi-retractable and provide traction during running. Cheetah have reduced teeth compared to other large cats. This is perhaps because of their large nostrils, which are useful in quick air intake and do not leave room for the roots of larger teeth. Large lungs, liver, heart, and adrenals facilitate a rapid physical response. Cheetah have a long, fluid body which is streamlined over light bones. The tail acts to balance the body during quick turning. The spine functions as a spring for the back legs, which gives the cheetah added reach for each step. The black teardrops under each eye may enhance vision by minimizing glare from the sun.
Average mass: 53500 g.
Average basal metabolic rate: 61.77 W.
Habitat and Ecology
Cheetahs are primarily found in open grassy habitats, but also make use of dry forest, savanna woodland, semi-desert and scrub, being absent from tropical rainforest. There are reports of cheetah at altitudes of 4,000 m on Mt Kenya (Young and Evans 1993). In the central Sahara, cheetahs occur in high mountain habitat - the Saharan mountains are hyper-arid, but still receive slightly higher rainfall than the surrounding desert. They are thus better vegetated and support small permanent waterholes and antelope populations (Nowell and Jackson 1996).
Cheetah habitat in Iran consists of desert, much of it with precipitation of fewer than 100 mm per year. The terrain ranges from plains and saltpans to eroded foothills, and rugged desert ranges that rise to an elevation of up to 2,000-3,000 m. The vegetation, if any, consists of a sparse cover of shrubs, most less than one meter tall, of the genera Salsola, Artemisia, Zygophyllum, Astragulus, Aphaxis, and others. Gazelles Gazella subgutturosa and G. bennetti were preferred prey, but they have now become scarce through over-hunting and replacement by livestock (Nowell and Jackson 1996). Opportunistic recovery of cheetah kills suggests that wild sheep Ovis orientalis, Persian ibex Capra aegagrus and Cape hares Lepus capensis are the key prey species today though none are considered optimal for cheetahs (Hunter et al. 2007).
Cheetahs have a social organization that is unique among the felids. Females are solitary or accompanied by dependent young, and males are either solitary or live in stable coalitions of two or three. Some coalitions consist of brothers, but unrelated males may also be members of the group. Unlike the coalitions formed by male lions, which remain attached to and mate with the females in a single pride, cheetah male coalitions mate with as many females as possible (Caro 1994), and females show no mate fidelity (Gottelli et al. 2007).
Female cheetahs in areas where prey is migratory (such as the Serengeti Plains) follow the herds, while male coalitions establish small territories (average 30 km²) and attempt to mate with females passing through (Durant et al. 1988; Caro 1994). However, in areas where prey is non-migratory, male and females have smaller, overlapping ranges that are similar in size (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002). On Namibian farmlands, where prey is non-migratory, both cheetah sexes have very large home ranges (average 1,642 km²); however, intensively used core areas were just 14% of the total home range. The reasons for such large home ranges were unclear, and were apparently not the result of reduced prey availability (Marker 2002).
In comparison with other big cats, cheetahs occur at relatively low densities (10-30% of typical densities for lions, leopards, tigers and jaguars in prime habitat: Durant, 2007). On the Serengeti plains, cheetah densities range from 0.8-1.0 per 100 km², but seasonally cheetahs can congregate at densities up to 40 per 100 km² (Caro 1994). Caro (1994) attributes lower cheetah densities to interspecific competition (especially with larger species such as lions and hyenas that can kill cheetah cubs), but on Namibian farmlands, where lions and hyenas have been eradicated, cheetahs still occur at low densities (0.2 per 100 km²) (Marker 2002).
Cheetah favor areas with tall grass and shrubs. They also seek out areas with many elevated points to look for prey from.
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland
The cheetah is carnivorous. The diet consists primarily of gazelles, but also includes impalas, game birds, rabbits, and the young of warthogs, kudu, hartebeest, oryx, roan, and sable. Cheetah hunt in early morning and late afternoon (diurnal). They scan the country side from a tree limb, on top of a termite mound, or even the roofs of cars of observers in order to locate prey. Once they have located an animal that has strayed some distance from the group, the cheetah tries to get within fifty yards of the intended victim before accelerating. Full sprints last roughly twenty seconds and rarely exceed one minute. Most hunts fail. If the hunt is successful, the prey is usually knocked down by the force of the cheetah's charge and then seized by its throat and strangled. Smaller prey such as rabbits are usually killed by biting through the skull. A female with cubs may make a kill every day, whereas lone adults hunt every two to five days. Cheetah eat fast because if challenged for their food, they most often lose.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
Status: wild: 15.0 years.
Status: captivity: 19.0 years.
Status: wild: 12.0 years.
Status: captivity: 17.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Females are polyestrous, with an average cycle of twelve days. Fertility lasts for one to three days. Breeding occurs throughout the year. A peak birth season has been noted during March through June. Gestation lasts 90 to 95 days. The number of young born can be one to eight, but is usually three to five. At birth cubs are on average 11.8 inches long and weigh 0.6 pounds. They are gray in color and have a mantle of mane-like hair along their back. It has been postulated that this mantle helps camouflage the cubs in the grass. The mantle begins to disappear at three months, but may still be seen at 2 years of age. During the first few weeks of life the cubs are moved every few days by their mother to avoid predators. The mother must leave the cubs alone to hunt, and during these times cubs often fall victim to predators. Infant mortality rates may be as high as 90%, with a majority being killed by lions. Cubs begin to follow their mother at 6 weeks of age. Cubs are weaned at three to six months. They usually remain with their mother for 13 to 20 months, during which time she teaches them to hunt. Sexual maturity is reached at 2 years of age.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 8.
Average number of offspring: 3.7.
Range gestation period: 90 to 95 days.
Range weaning age: 120 to 150 days.
Average birth mass: 489 g.
Average number of offspring: 3.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 456 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 456 days.
Parental Investment: altricial ; extended period of juvenile learning
Evolution and Systematics
The spine of the cheetah increases its running speed because its flexiblity allows longer stride lengths.
"They [plains predators] have effectively lengthened their limbs by making their spine extremely flexible. At full stretch, travelling at high speed, their hind and front legs overlap one another beneath the body just like those of a galloping antelope. The cheetah has a thin elongated body and is said to be the fastest runner on earth, capable of reaching speeds, in bursts, of over 110 kph. But this method is very energy-consuming. Great muscular effort is needed to keep the spine springing back and forth and the cheetah cannot maintain such speeds for more than a minute or so." (Attenborough 1979:264)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Attenborough, D. 1979. Life on earth. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. 319 p.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Acinonyx jubatus
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 21
Species With Barcodes: 1
Barcode data: Acinonyx jubatus
There are 4 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank. Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species. See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Acinonyx jubatus , see its USFWS Species Profile
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Subspecies in Iran (A. j. venaticus) and northwest Africa (A. j. heckii) are listed as Critically Endangered.
- 1994Vulnerable(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Vulnerable(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
Population estimates vary from 2,000 to 15,000. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) classifies the cheetah as vulnerable, with the African sub-species as endangered and the Asiatic sub-species as critically endangered. The cheetah is listed as endangered and is on Appendix 1 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix i
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
Status in Egypt
The number of known resident cheetahs in Eastern Africa (Ethiopia, southern Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) is estimated at 2,572 adults and independent adolescents. Most population estimates were derived from applying a density estimate of one adult per 100 km² to mapped resident range areas during a conservation strategy workshop, although a few are based on research. Only four of the 15 known populations were estimated to number >200 animals; the largest population (Serengeti/Maro/Tsavo in Kenya and Tanzania) is estimated at 710. It would be much smaller if unprotected lands were included. Overall, less than half of the estimated cheetah population inhabits protected areas. In addition, approximately half lives in habitat blocks which are trans-boundary, requiring international cooperation for conservation of the population. Cheetahs possibly occur over an area which is several times as large as the range of the known population (Anon. 2007).
These estimates can be compared with previous population estimates based on extensive field interviews and application of density estimates. There is rough accord for Kenya at 793 (Gros 1998) and Tanzania at 569-1,007 (Gros 2002). However, in Uganda, Gros and Rejmanek (1999) estimated 40-295 with a wider range in the Karamoja region, whereas now cheetahs have been extirpated and just 12 are estimated to persist in Kidepo National Park and surroundings (Anon. 2007).
In the remainder of Africa, there are few reliable population estimates. Cheetahs are considered extinct or possibly extinct in many countries (Marker 2002). In northwest Africa the population is probably fewer than 250 mature individuals and the subspecies A. j. heckii is listed as Critically Endangered.
In Asia cheetahs are now known to exist only in Iran, where the subspecies A. j. venaticus is estimated at 60-100 (Hunter et al. 2007) and listed as Critically Endangered.
The known cheetah population is not much greater than 7,000, and the total population is unlikely to exceed 10,000 mature individuals, thus meeting the criteria for Vulnerable. The current known population is half the 15,000 estimated by Myers (1975) from his continental status assessment. The effective population size (the estimated percentage of the population contributing to the gene pool through reproductive success) could be less than half of the total population (Kelly 2001).
While the current rate of population decline is of most concern, and the historical rate of decline has been severe (Nowell and Jackson, 1996; Ray et al. 2005), attention has also focused on the cheetah's having perhaps suffered even more extreme losses in the distant past. The cheetah species exhibits remarkably low levels of genetic diversity in comparison to other felids (O'Brien et al. 1986) (but not compared to carnivores in general: Merola 1994). This is consistent with inbreeding among a very few individuals surviving one or more catastrophic population bottlenecks in the past, with the first possibly occurring during the late Pleistocene extinctions, around 10,000 years ago, according to analysis of mitochondrial DNA (Menotti-Raymond and O'Brien 1995).
It is unclear what sort of agent could have caused such an extreme population decline in a wide-ranging species, and alternative explanations have been explored. Hedrick (1996) suggested the low levels of genetic variation could result from a very low effective population size (the estimated percentage of the population that is actually passing on its genes), and Kelly's (2001) calculations of effective population size in cheetahs of the Serengeti Plains were quite low (44% or less of the actual population). She found that only a few females contributed disproportionately to future generations by raising offspring which survived and reproduced (Kelly 2001). Genetic analysis by Gottelli et al. (2007) showed that male cheetahs, on the other hand, passed on their genes more successfully than expected. Female cheetahs mated with multiple males, many non-resident, with 43% of litters having mixed paternity. This indicates that rates of genetic loss should be lower than anticipated by Kelly (2001), and underscores the importance of cheetah mobility in their ecology and conservation.
While the causes of the cheetah's low levels of genetic variation are unclear, what is clear is that large populations are necessary to conserve it. Since cheetahs are a low density species, conservation areas need to be quite large, larger than most protected areas.
A depleted wild ungulate prey base is of serious concern in northern Africa (Berzins and Belbachir 2006). Cheetahs which turn to livestock are killed as pests (Claro 2003; Hamdine et al. 2003; Wacher et al. 2005). Conflict with farmers and depletion of the wild prey base are also considered significant threats in parts of Eastern Africa (Anon. 2007).
In Iran, the Asiatic Cheetah A. j. venaticus is threatened indirectly by loss of prey base through human hunting activities. In addition, most protected areas are open to seasonal livestock grazing, which potentially places huge pressure on the resident ungulate populations through disturbance and potential competition (Hunter et al. 2007). Additionally, domestic dogs accompanying the herds present a likely threat to both cheetahs and their prey (H. Ziaie pers. comm. 2008) An emerging threat is the possibility of fragmentation into discontinuous subpopulations as a result of increasing developmental pressures (mining, oil, roads, railways); this is particularly the case in Kavir N.P., currently the north-western limit of the Asiatic Cheetah's range (L. Hunter and L. Marker pers. comm.).
Conflict with farmers and ranchers is the major threat to cheetahs in southern Africa (Purchase et al. 2007). Cheetah are often killed or persecuted because they are a perceived threat to livestock, despite the fact that they cause relatively little damage. In Namibia, very large numbers of cheetahs have been live-trapped and removed by ranchers seeking to protect their livestock (from government permit records, Nowell  calculated that over 9,500 cheetahs were removed from 1978-1995). While removal rates have fallen, in part due to intensified conservation and education efforts, many ranchers still view cheetahs as a problem animal, despite research showing that cheetahs were only responsible for 3% of livestock losses to predators (Marke, 2002). Although cheetah in Iran have been killed because of predation on livestock, since 2003, there has been no direct evidence of killing cheetahs (Hunter et al. 2007), though it is likely most incidents go unreported.
Cheetahs are also vulnerable to being caught in snares set for other species (Ray et al. 2005; Anon. 2007).
Another threat to the cheetah is interspecific competition with other large predators, especially lions. On the open, short-grass plains of the Serengeti, juvenile mortality can be as high as 95%, largely due to predation by lions (Laurenson 1994). However, mortality rates are lower in more closed habitats (Caro in press).
CITES allows legal trade in live animals and hunting trophies under an Appendix I quota system (annual quotas: Namibia - 150; Zimbabwe - 50; Botswana - 5). This was accepted by CITES as a way to enhance the economic value of cheetahs on private lands and provide an economic incentive for their conservation (Nowell 1996). The global captive cheetah population is not self-sustaining; cheetahs breed poorly in captivity and in 2001 30% of the captive population was wild-caught (Marker 2002). While analysis of trade records in the CITES database shows that these countries have reported almost no live exports since the late 1990s, Purchase et al. (2007) are concerned that there is a substantial illegal cross-border trade in live animals. There is also concern about illegal trade in skins, as well as capture of live cubs for trade to the Middle East (Anon. 2007). There is an increasing trade in cubs from north-east Africa into the Middle East (Amir 2005), but there is currently little trade in cubs from the Sahel region, where it was previously considered a major problem (K. de Smet pers. comm. 2007).
Cheetahs are active during the daytime and there is concern that they can be driven off their kills by tourist cars crowding around, or mothers separated from their cubs. Burney (1980) conducted a study and concluded that tourist cars did not seem to harm cheetahs, and in fact sometimes helped, as cheetah chases more often ended in a kill when there were cars around, distracting prey, providing cover from which to stalk, or otherwise waking cheetahs up to notice prey in the area. However, tourist numbers have risen sharply by then, and its potential impact on cheetahs remains a concern (Caro 1994; Anon. 2007).
The Eastern African cheetah conservation strategy (Anon. 2007) identified four sets of constraints to mitigating these threats across a large spatial scale. Political constraints include lack of land use planning, insecurity and political instability in some ecologically important areas, and lack of political will to foster cheetah conservation. Economic constraints include lack of financial resources to support conservation, and lack of incentives for local people to conserve wildlife. Social constraints include negative conceptions of cheetahs, lack of capacity to achieve conservation, lack of environmental awareness, rising human populations, and social changes leading to subdivision of land and subsequent habitat fragmentation. These potentially mutable human constraints contrast with several biological constraints which are characteristic of cheetahs and cannot be changed, including wide-ranging behaviour, negative interactions with other large carnivores, and potential susceptibility to disease.
Disease is a potential threat to the cheetah (Anon. 2007), as its reduced genetic diversity can increase a population's susceptibility (O'Brien et al. 1983). However, the most serious disease mortality thus far documented in wild cheetahs was from naturally occurring anthrax in Namibia's Etosha National Park; cheetahs, unlike other predators, do not scavenge carcasses of ungulates killed by anthrax, and thus had no built-up immunity when they preyed upon springbok sick with the disease (Lindeque et al. 1998). The cheetah's low density may offer some measure of protection against infectious disease; for example, cheetahs were not affected by an outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus in the Serengeti National Park which killed over 1/3 of the lion population. Serological surveys of cheetahs on Namibian farmland indicate some exposure and survival of the disease (Marker 2002).
Promotion of livestock management regimes which minimize conflict with cheetahs are an important conservation measure, pioneered by the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia (Marker et al., 2003) but now being applied more widely. Elements of successful conservation management include availability of wild prey and more intensive livestock herd protection, especially using guard dogs.
The Asiatic Cheetah is protected in Iran. The main protected areas for this species include Kavir National Park, Khar Touran National Park and Naybandan Wildlife Refuge, Bafgh P.A., and Dar Anjir Wildlife Refuge. A radio-telemetry study in Iran is providing the first detailed data on cheetahs in Iran (Hunter et al. 2007).
In 2009, the Afghan Government placed this species on the country’s Protected Species List, meaning all hunting and trading of this species within Afghanistan is now illegal.
Several countries, including Namibia and Kenya, have developed national action plans or conservation strategies for cheetahs (Nowell, 1996; Durant, 2007); regional conservation strategies have been developed for Southern (Dickman et al., 2006; Anon., 2008) and Eastern Africa (Anon., 2007); and there is also a global strategy (Bartels et al., 2002). These plans call for a number of improvements in monitoring, surveys and information exchange (to better understand cheetah distribution and status); promotion of human-cheetah coexistence (to reduce conflict and develop incentives to conserve cheetahs); national land use planning (to ensure viable national cheetah populations); capacity building (to improve management); policy and legislation (to ensure legal consistency and remove loopholes) and advocacy (to raise awareness of and political commitment to cheetah conservation needs).
Several specialist networks of cheetah conservationists have been established, including the Global Cheetah Forum (affiliated with the IUCN Conservation Breeding Specialist Group) and the North African Regional Cheetah Action Group (NARCAG/OGRAN). The IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group maintains a Cheetah Conservation Compendium with a reference library and detailed country information (www.catsg.org)
Important protected areas that represent strongholds for Cheetah populations in Africa include the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (South Africa, Botswana), Nxai Pan and Chobe National Parks, and Okavango Delta (Botswana), Etosha N.P. (Namibia), Liuwa Plains N.P. (Zambia), and, of course, the Serengeti N.P. (Tanzania, Kenya) (Caro in press). In West Africa, the major remaining stronghold for the species is the WAPO protected areas complex. There is a surviving population of Cheetah in the Ahaggar National Park in Algeria (Wacher et al. 2005).
However, most cheetah occur outside of protected areas (where they are often persecuted as pests), and given their need for large areas they require conservation action on a landscape scale (for example, human-wildlife conflict mitigation, zoning for land-use to maintain habitat connectivity, and wild prey restoration) (Marker, 2002; Anon., 2007).
This species is one of a number which have been included in various “Pleistocene rewilding” plans. Pleistocene rewilding is the proposed practice of restoring ecosystems to their state in the Pleistocene, roughly 10,000 years ago. This contrasts the standard conservation benchmark, particularly in North America, of restoring ecosystems to their pre-Columbian or pre-industrial state. In both Eurasia and North America, the Pleistocene was characterized by much greater diversity and numbers of large herbivores and predators, including proboscidians, equids, camelids, and felidae (Donlan et al 2006; Zimov 2005). The process of restoration would involve the reintroduction of extant species in their historic range, as well as the introduction of ‘proxy organisms’ to replace the ecological functionality of extinct organisms (Donlan et al 2006).
There are three central theoretical goals to Pleistocene rewilding. In Siberia, a team led by Sergey Zimov is investigating the role of large herbivores as ecosystem engineers. It is thought that herbivory pressure could play a central role in maintaining a grass-dominated plant community, as opposed to either tree- or moss-dominated. Grasslands are known to be more stable carbon sinks than either mossy or forested tundra, due to the rapidity of their biogeochemical cycling (Zimov 2005). In principle, then, reintroducing Pleistocene fauna could have positive climate change mitigation effects. Proposals in North America have focused instead on the preservation of ecological dynamics. Proponents of Pleistocene rewilding argue that due to the strong ecological interactions of megafauna, it is likely that their extinction at the end of the Pleistocene would have caused cascading ecological disruptions lasting until the present time (Donlan et al 2006). Additionally, introduction programs could provide a new lease on life for extant, endangered megafauna species, such as cheetahs and Asian elephants (Rubenstein 2006).
Pleistocene rewilding, while headline-grabbing, is by no means the standard of modern conservation biology. There are a number of objections to the proposals of Pleistocene rewilders, summarized by Rubenstein et al (2006). The introduction of species which have been locally extinct for thousands of years, and more particularly the introduction of modern relatives of extinct species, carries many risks: the potential for invasive species, catastrophic disruption of existing ecosystems, inadvertent introduction of disease organisms, and unpredictable behavior of introduced species. Additionally, while paleoecology is a growing field, there is still a fair amount of uncertainty about the actual ecosystem functions of the Pleistocene.
Species which Zimov and his colleagues in Siberia are experimenting with bison, musk oxen, Przewalski’s horse, and Siberian tigers (Zimov 2005). Small-scale introductions have already begun in Yakutia. Donlan et al propose introducing Przewalski’s horse, Bolson tortoises, Bactrian camels, cheetahs, lions, and elephants into the Western United States (Donlan et al 2005). While some individuals of these species are present on privately owned land, there are no free-living populations in North America at this time.
- Donlan, CJ. 2005. Re-Wilding North America. Nature 436:913-914.
- Donlan CJ, Berger J, Bock CE, Bock JH, Burney DA, Estes JA, Foreman D, Martin PS, Roemer GW, Smith FA, Soule ME, Greene HW. 2005. Pleistocene Rewilding: An Optimistic Agenda for Twenty-First Century Conservation. The American Naturalist 168:660-681.
- Rubenstein DR, Rubenstein DI, Sherman PW, Gavin TA. 2006. Pleistocene Park: Does Rewilding North America Represent Sound Conservation for the 21st Century? Biological Conservation 132:232-238.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
Cheetah have been thought to prey on domestic stock. In the past, this has led to their being hunted. Whether or not they actually prey on domestic stock is in question. Educational campaigns have commenced to educate the farmers on how to live in harmony with cheetah, and the importance of cheetah to the environment.
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
In the past, the cheetah pelt was viewed as a status symbol of wealth, which led to their being hunted. Currently, cheetah are of economic importance for the tourism industries of the areas in which they are still found naturally. Cheetah also are of economic importance for zoos. Another way in which people profit from cheetah is through the pet industry. Hunters kill mothers and then take their offspring to be sold as pets. The infant cheetah are purchased illegally because of laws prohibiting individual ownership of wild and/or endangered animals.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material