Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
Scientific name: Acinonyx jubatus
Common name: Cheetah
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Status: Vulnerable A2acd; C1 ver 3.1
Population estimate (in the wild): 7000
Approx number of mature individuals: 7500 – 10000
Population trend: Decreasing
Cheetah are part of the felidae family and can be found throughout Africa in open plains and grasslands or other terrains that allow them to run unhindered. They are characteristically identified by the black tear marks along their faces and their slight frame. Even though cheetah are considered one of the larger predators, they are quite significantly smaller than other feline predators such as the lion or leopard – only measuring between 80 to 90cm at the shoulder and weighing between 30 and 60 kilograms. Cheetah are rather elusive creatures and have been known to live between 11 and 16 years in the wild. Hyena, lion and leopard pose the biggest danger to cheetahs, adults and cubs alike. Cheetah have disappeared from more than 75% of their historic range in Africa and their population has decreased by over 30% in the last 20 years. Fewer than 7000 adults remain in the wild, with approximately 1000 of these found in South Africa.
Wildlife ACT’s Work with Cheetah
RESERVES : Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, uMkhuze and Manyoni Game Reserve
- Development of population demographics using camera traps and tourist sightings.
- Understanding population numbers and survival rates using satellite collars and VHF tracking devices.
- Transporting, caring for and releasing cheetahs into new protected areas.
- Finding & monitoring cheetah outside of protected areas in KwaZulu-Natal and assisting with their capture if needed.
- Vulnerable, with some sub-species critically endangered.
Southern Africa is the cheetah’s regional stronghold, with a “roughly” estimated population of at least 4,500 adults (Purchase et al. 2007). This regional estimate breaks down as follows: Angola – present but unknown; Botswana – 1,800; Malawi – <25 (and probably extirpated: Purchase and Purchase 2007); Mozambique: <50; Namibia – 2,000; South Africa – 550; Zambia – 100; Zimbabwe – 400. A large proportion of the estimated population lives outside protected areas, in lands ranched primarily for livestock but also for wild game, and where lions and hyenas have been extirpated. (IUCN)
- 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.
- Illegal Trade: This is most certainly a threat cheetah are facing and is something that needs more focused energy and attention. We work closely with the local authorities to ensure safe space is being made available for our wild cheetah population, and that relocations and monitoring is up to an acceptable standard. Going forward there will be an initiative where we will be partnering with various other conservation focused entities focusing on understanding, and ultimately preventing any illegal trade from South Africa.
- 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).
Interesting Cheetah Facts
- Cheetah are the fastest mammals on land being able to reach speeds of 120km/h over short distances. They will often use these short bursts of speed when stalking their prey to make a kill.
- When running, cheetahs use their tail to steer, like a rudder for a boat
- Accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in three seconds, the cheetah is the world’s fastest land mammal
- Cheetahs can cover more than 7m in one stride and more than 25m in a second
- Cheetah cubs can be easily confused by other predators as a honey badger – a small feisty carnivore that most predators leave alone