Why should the cheetah be protected?

There are two aspects to the question and therefore the answer. The first is whether humankind genuinely wants to protect wild animals living in the wild. Are we committed to it? Can we make it a priority? Are we able to achieve the kind of protection that many wild species demand in order to stop them becoming extinct in the wild? These are big questions and at the moment I don’t see a clear answer. It appears to me that humankind is not committed to protecting the flora and fauna of the planet, even the iconic species such as the cheetah. Things will change as the situation deteriorates and perhaps at the 11th hour something will be done but that is not the way to go about protecting wild animals like the cheetah.

Cheetah
Cheetah. Image by Barry Reed from Pixabay.
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It’s interesting to note that the world organisation charged with assessing whether a particular species is surviving or not on this planet last assessed the cheetah in 2014. That’s seven years ago. That is the most up-to-date information that they have and it is out of date by seven years. It’s remarkable and it does point to a lack of commitment at a fundamental level. The cheetah should be protected from humankind’s apathy and lethargy in respect of conservation.

Secondly, the cheetah should be protected because it is under dire and direct threat from a number of human activities. And it always boils down to human activity which threatens the conservation of animals and plants.

The world organisation that I refer to is the IUCN Red List. IUCN is an acronym for International Union for the Conservation of Nature. There is not much of a ‘union’ between nations when it comes to conservation, believe me. It is failing as an organisation in my honest opinion. However, they provide a long list of threats to the cheetah including livestock farming and ranching, railroads and roads, hunting and trapping, recreation activities, civil unrest, military exercises and war, diseases and problematic native species.

Adding some details to that brief list, I can add that the cheetah is vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation because they live in low densities. They require larger areas than normal to survive so they are particularly sensitive to loss of habitat due to human activities. They state that viable subpopulations of cheetah require more than 10,000 km² of land.

There is often conflict between the cheetah and livestock farmers and game farmers. Although cheetahs prefer to prey on wild animals (c.f. livestock) they do sometimes prey on livestock leading to retaliation killing of the cheetah by farmers. Game farmers see the cheetah as a competitor for valuable game offtake. Although the cheetah rarely scavengers and is therefore protected against poisoning by people.

Although cheetahs are excellent hunters with a high success rate their prey animals are diminishing in numbers due to hunting by people, grazing pressure and habitat conversion. All are human-created problems. Removing normal prey items from the cheetah leads them to hunt livestock as substitutes which creates the pressures mentioned above.

Another threat is that cheatahs can become captured in snares designed to catch bush meat i.e. food to eat by locals.

The construction of highways across their habitat divides it up and threatens their survivability. This is of special concern where roads cross or join major wildlife areas. An example is the Nairobi-Mombasa road traversing the Tsavo National Park in Kenya. Cheetahs can be killed on these roads. In Iran, out of 27 cheetah mortalities between 2005 and 2011, 11 were due to road kills on roads traversing protected areas.

Tourism can threaten cheetah populations. It can interfere with cheetah behaviour including hunting. Essentially it disturbs their life and can lead to, for instance, cub mortality when they are separated from their mother.

Infectious diseases are less of a threat than normal to the cheetah because of their low densities.

Cheetahs are still hunted for their skins in some areas. There is an illegal trade in cheetah cubs to Gulf states where they are kept as pets.

Mining and general commercialisation of the landscape is a threat to this animal. It destroys their habitat and divides up their distribution.

So, to go back to the original question as to why the cheetah should be protected. The answer is twofold (1) the cheetah is under direct and quite profound threat and has been for a long time because of human activities of various kinds and conflict between people and cheetahs which undermines its ability to survive and (2) thus far it seems clear that there is a lack of desire to protect this iconic species, the fastest land animal. There needs to be a change in attitude.

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