Big cats in the wild are majestic and wonderful. Bengal tigers, black panthers, lions, tigers, and leopards. Each one brings a different beauty to the world.
But unfortunately, there's one giant cat that is facing extinction as their numbers decline in a scary fashion.
There are only 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild right now, this according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This is approximately 50% decline since 1975, when there were an estimated 14,000 cheetahs.
Cheetahs are already almost extinct in Asia, with only 50 of them remaining in one small part in Iran. Other than that, cheetahs are confined to just six African countries.
“These large carnivores, when they are declining at that sort of rate, then extinction becomes a real possibility,” says Luke Hunter, president and CCO for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization.
So why are these animals going extinct?
There are many answers to this question. Loss of habitat is becoming an increasing problem, as many areas of land are being dedicated to livestock or agriculture. Because of this, cheetahs are killed if they are perceived as a threat to the livestock. Hunter says this is an issue, because cheetahs rarely take domesticated animals anyway.
Cheetahs are also targets for poachers, either for their skin or their meat. If it's not them being hunted, it's their prey.
“Cheetahs are facing a double whammy: They are getting killed directly, and then also their prey species are getting killed in these Savannah areas, so the cheetahs having nothing to subsist on,” Hunter says.
While there are "protected zones" for cheetahs, study leader Sarah Durant says two thirds of the cheetah population doesn't actually live in those areas.
“We can’t have any more cheetahs in protected areas ... the density is already the maximum it can be,” Durant says. “The key to the survival of the cheetah is its survival outside of protected areas.”
Durant hopes this study sparks more conservation programs to help save these incredible wild animals.
Do you think we should be doing more to protect the cheetahs? Let us know!