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ALERT: Cheetahs Racing Toward Global Extinction

Dec 27, 2016 12:10 PM EST

A new study revealed that the global population of the world's fastest land animal is sprinting its way to extinction, with only 7,100 individuals globally.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that the dramatic decline of global cheetah population could soon lead to its extinction, unless urgent, landscape-wide conservation action is taken.

"This study represents the most comprehensive analysis of cheetah status to date. Given the secretive nature of this elusive cat, it has been difficult to gather hard information on the species, leading to its plight being overlooked," explained Dr. Sarah Durant, ZSL/WCS, Project Leader for the Rangewide Conservation Program for Cheetah and African Wild Dog and lead author of the study, in a press release.

"Our findings show that the large space requirements for cheetah, coupled with the complex range of threats faced by the species in the wild, mean that it is likely to be much more vulnerable to extinction than was previously thought."

Dr. Durant, together with her colleagues at Zoological Society of London, Panthera and Wildlife Conservation Society, found that the best available estimate of Cheetah's global population would be around 7,100. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that cheetahs have been driven out of 91 percent of their historic range.

The population of Asiatic cheetahs has been hit the hardest, with fewer than 50 individuals remaining in one isolate area in Iran. On the other hand, cheetahs living in Zimbabwe experienced a sharp decline in its population, from 1,200 to a maximum of 170 animals in 16 years. About 77 percent of cheetah's habitat falls outside the protected areas, making it moiré difficult to protect and conserve the species. Major vulnerabilities of cheetah include prey loss due to overhunting, habitat loss due to human land use and illegal trafficking of cheetah parts and trade as pets.

With their findings, the researchers recommended uplisting the IUCN Red List status of cheetahs from "vulnerable" to "endangered". When listed as endangered species, cheetahs will receive greater international conservation support, prioritization and attention. The researchers noted that global conservation efforts are necessary to prevent this fast and spotted big cat from being wiped out.

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