When I was browsing LiveScience, I came across an article by Laura Geggel titled Humans to Blame for Cheetah Decline, Study Finds. I wasn't entirely surprised by this finding, but I knew that other factors were thought to have caused their decline.
In the wild, cheetahs can reach speeds of 115 kilometres an hour (over 70 miles per hour). Indeed, they are the fastest land animal on earth. But this magnificent cat sometimes has to fight off other predators (such as lions and hyenas) to keep their prey. Lions will kill cheetahs in the process.
In the Oxford Journal of Behavioral Ecology, author Sarah M. Durant pointed out there were no published records of adult cheetahs being killed by hyenas (though not impossible). Laurenson (1994) found that 90 percent of cheetah cubs die before becoming independent - mostly because of lion and hyena predation. Formerly, Durant et al. and Laurenson (1995), concluded that lions negatively impacted cheetah populations.
Another theory was that cheetahs expend so much energy in securing their prey, that they burn more calories than they end up consuming.
Yet this latest study, published in the journal Science on October 2nd, 2014, points the finger at us as the prime reason cheetahs are facing extinction.
Cheetahs Do Not Breed Well In Captivity
It's highly stressful when their hunting and ranging instincts are denied
Results of the 10-Year Study
Michael Scantlebury, lead researcher, explained in a public release:
"What we found was that the cats' energy expenditure was not significantly different from other mammals of similar size - cheetahs may be Ferraris but most of the time they are driving slowly. What our study showed was that their major energy costs seem to be incurred by travelling, rather than securing prey."
And surprising to many researchers was his conclusion:
"They can even withstand other species, such as lions and hyenas, stealing their prey. The reality may be that human activities (for example erecting fences that inhibit free travel or over-hunting cheetah prey) are forcing cheetahs to travel ever-increasing distances and that this may be compromising their energy more than any other single factor."
Dr. John Wilson of North Carolina State University and co-author of the manuscript added:
"Too often we blame lions and hyenas for decimating cheetah populations when in fact, it is likely to be us humans that drive their declines. Imagine how hard it must be for a small cub to follow its mother further and further through the desert to look for food, while she herself is fighting for survival."
Jack Hanna on Letterman with a Cheetah and an Anatolian Shepherd Dog
Dr. Laurie Marker, regarded as the Jane Goodall of Cheetahs, is both founder and director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund. In a CBC Radio episode of The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti, I was shocked to hear her say:
"Without any intervention the cheetah will be extinct within a couple of decades."
To explain the presence of the Anatolian Shepherd dog on David Letterman. These dogs are being are used by Dr. Marker in an effort to prevent cheetahs from being killed by farmers, poachers, and natural predators.
How These Dogs Help:
Anatolian Shepherd dogs are bred and then given to the farmers to protect and guard livestock from cheetah attacks. In the past, cheetah have been killed following their natural instinct to kill farm animals in order to survive.
But what they've found is that these dogs also drive away caracals, baboons, leopards and even human poachers. (I know David Letterman didn't quite understand how these dogs help cheetahs, but I appreciate Jack Hanna's efforts to help save these magnificent cats).
A Cheetah's Tail Acts Like a Rudder on a Boat
The bones in their tail are flat which helps them make fast turns
Cheetahs Live About 12 to 14 Years in the Wild
Sadly, cheetahs often will die within a few weeks of being captured
Another Way Humans are Killing Off Cheetahs
Mark Dumont (wcdumonts on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericA July 15th, 2014 article by Damian Carrington in The Guardian titled Cheetah smuggling driving wild population to extinction, report says had me wondering 'who on earth is smuggling these animals and why?'
Well, it turns out there is demand for them in Middle East as luxury pets for the wealthy. Yet tragically, two-thirds of cheetah cubs being smuggled out of Africa are dying in transit during this type of trade.
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Cheetahs have have disappeared from (at least 76%) of their historic range in Africa.
The Northwest African Cheetah (aka Saharan Cheetah) is critically endangered. In 2008, their total population was thought to be fewer than 250 mature individuals and without any sub-population larger than 50 mature individuals.
There also appears to be demand in some areas of the world for cheetah-skin shoes, clothing, and for their bones and body parts to be used in traditional medicine and magic rituals.