Cheetah

Racing to extinction: historically ranging throughout Africa to India, now distributed in small, fragmented populations

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Cheetah

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Racing to extinction: historically ranging throughout Africa to India, now distributed in small, fragmented populations

Population 6,500
2.26% annual decline in population

Cheetahs, with their striking golden yellowish-tan coats marked by distinctive black spots, embody grace and speed in the animal kingdom. These magnificent felines are instantly recognizable for their unique pelage and built-in anti-glare tear marks, which run from the corners of their eyes to their cheeks. These marks help to deflect the sun’s glare, enabling them to spot prey across the vast, sunlit savannas where they hunt. Additionally, cheetahs possess a combination of physical attributes uniquely suited to high-speed pursuits, including small heads, lean bodies, and exceptionally long legs, all of which contribute to their status as the world’s fastest land animals, capable of speeds up to 70 miles per hour (112 kilometers per hour) in short bursts covering distances up to 1,500 feet (460 meters).

Cheetahs share a common ancestor with the puma and jaguarundi, which suggests that the cheetah’s lineage was not always confined to the African and Asian continents as it is today. Fossil records indicate that cheetahs once roamed across North America and Europe but were victims of a mass extinction event near the end of the last ice age. This catastrophic event drastically reduced the cheetah’s range, leading to the extinction of the North American and European populations and leaving only the Asian and African populations to carry on the lineage.

The situation for wild cheetahs is precarious today, with an estimated 7,000 individuals remaining in Africa and fewer than 50 in Asia. This represents a significant contraction from their historical range, primarily due to habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, poaching, and the illegal pet trade. The Asiatic cheetah, in particular, faces an extremely high risk of extinction, with its small population confined to parts of Iran. Efforts to conserve and protect these remaining populations are hindered by various challenges, including the recent imprisonment of key conservationists working to save the Asiatic cheetah, casting a shadow over the future of these efforts.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Afghanistan
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 1950s
Algeria
37
CR
2020
Angola
2007
Unknown but present
Benin
20
Official estimate
CR
2016
Botswana
1800
Official estimate
VU
2007
Burkina Faso
3
Official estimate
CR
2016
Burundi
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally
Cameroon
Official estimate
EX
Last sighting 1970s
Central Af. Rep.
2022
Chad
238
Official estimate
VU
2016
Côte D’ivoire
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally
Djibouti
2022
Possibly Extant
Egypt
2022
Possibly Extinct
Eritrea
2022
Possibly Extinct
Eswatini
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally
Ethiopia
81
Official estimate
CR
2016
Ghana
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally
Guinea-Bissau
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 1990s
Guinea
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 1990s
India
Official estimate
EX
Last sighting 1952
Iran
<50
Official estimate
CR
2016
Asiatic cheetah (A. j. venaticus)
Iraq
Official estimate
EX
Last record 1991
Israel
Official estimate
EX
Last seen 1956
Jordan
Official estimate
EX
Last seen 1962
Kazakhstan
Official estimate
EX
Last sighting 1984
Kenya
55
Official estimate
CR
2016
Kuwait
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 1940s
Libya
2022
Possibly Extant
Malawi
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 1996
Mali
2022
No data
Mauritania
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally
Morocco
2022
Possibly Extinct
Mozambique
<50
Official estimate
CR
2007
Namibia
2,000
Official estimate
VU
2007
Niger
3
Official estimate
CR
2016
Nigeria
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally
Pakistan
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally
Rwanda
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally
Saudi Arabia
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 50 years ago
Senegal
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 1990s
Sierra Leone
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 1990s
Somalia
2022
Possibly Extinct
South Africa
550
Official estimate
VU
2007
South Sudan
2022
Possibly Extinct
Sudan
2022
Possibly Extinct
Syria
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 1979
Tajikistan
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 20th century
Tanzania
311
Official estimate
VU
2016
Togo
2022
Possibly Extinct
Tunisia
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally
Turkmenistan
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 1950s
Uganda
2022
No data
Uzbekistan
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 1970s
Zambia
100
Official estimate
VU
2007
Zimbabwe
400
Official estimate
2007

Recent updates

March 2024: A new report by Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, found that about 70% of live cheetah trade occurs on social media, with a growing trend in illegal online sales mainly for exotic pets.

February 2024: Uzbekistan is boosting efforts to conserve biodiversity, focusing on reintroducing the endangered Asiatic cheetah, reported the ministry of ecology. This was reaffirmed during a meeting between Minister Aziz Abdukhakimov and Dr. David Cooper of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

December 2023: Researchers urged stronger protection for the Northeast African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii) after genetic analysis showed all 55 cheetahs confiscated in Somaliland from 2016 to 2019 were of this subspecies. They called on the IUCN to reclassify it as endangered and to conduct further research on its critical status.

March 2023: After decades of being declared extinct in India, the successful release of two cheetahs from Namibia has marked the beginning of a new effort to restore the species. As part of the initiative, twelve cheetahs have been transported to India with the hope of re-establishing their population.

Did you know?

  • More than 100,000 cheetahs were estimated at the beginning of the 20th century in Africa, the Middle East, and other parts of Asia. The African cheetah is now found primarily in small, fragmented populations limited to six African countries: South Africa, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mozambique.
  • Asian cheetah is already almost extinct in Asia, with less than 50 individuals left in one remote area of Iran.
  • 91% of the cheetah’s historical range has been lost to human encroachment; they are wiped out of more than 38 countries.
  • Because of their low population density, cheetahs require conservation areas that are considerably larger, larger than those found in most protected areas.
  • In contrast to other predators, cheetahs are mostly active during the day.
  • Cheetahs can reach 97 km/h (60 mph) in less than three seconds, which is comparable to a car with more than 5000cc engine, such as the Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4.
  • The threat of cheetah extinction in the wild is very real. More than 50% of them may vanish subject to current high levels of threat.
  • Cheetahs are listed in Appendix I (no commercial trade), but CITES ignores the fact that trophy hunting is a commercial activity and grants Namibia a yearly quota; it is the only country that allows cheetah trophy hunting.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No