Lounging in the shade of a tree, Heathcliff the cheetah oozes sleek grace and power, but he is captive behind a wire fence—perhaps the only way that cheetahs will exist in a few decades' time.
A major survey released last week revealed that just 7,100 adult cheetahs remain in the wild, and that the species faces extinction without urgent new protection measures.
At the De Wildt Cheetah Centre outside Pretoria, about 100 cheetahs are kept in large enclosures where they roam through a scrubby bushveld landscape.
The fastest land animal on Earth is critically vulnerable to the loss of its natural habitat—the major cause of numbers dropping from about 100,000 over the last 100 years.
Cheetahs have lost 90 percent of their habitat due to growing human populations, according to the study, which produced comprehensive new data on the elusive species.
Forced into contact with people, cheetahs are shot by farmers to protect livestock, accidentally caught in snares set for edible bushmeat or their cubs are illegally traded to the Gulf states as exotic pets.
"Cheetahs are forgotten among the big species under threat. It is very scary to see what is happening to the numbers," Rita Groenewald, conservation education expert at the De Wildt centre, told AFP.Read More...
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