PLIGHT OF THE CHEETAH
December 4th: International Cheetah Day
The word cheetah comes from the Hindi word “chita” meaning “spotted one.” Since the 1900’s, the cheetah population has decreased by over 90% due to human conflict. They are the most endangered large cat in Africa with only about 7,100 adults left in the wild. The biggest cause of the reduction in their population is habitat loss, which has resulted in small fragmented plots of land and increased interference with livestock. Illegal wildlife trafficking around the horn of Africa is also a major contributor to the demise of their population as cheetahs are small, easily tamed, and sold to the illegal pet market, mainly in the middle east.
The cheetah lacks genetic diversity that results in every individual being very closely related to every other individual. This means that they are incredibly susceptible to disease transmission and large populations have been wiped out due to feline disease outbreaks. In addition, a result of this lack of genetic diversity, cheetahs have about 70-80% of abnormal sperm, which directly affects their ability to reproduce successfully.
One simple, inexpensive, and effective method to reduce the human conflict with the cheetahs is for farmers and livestock owners to get a dog that keeps the cheetahs away from their livestock. Combatting the illegal wildlife trade is also a way to help the populations of cheetahs, but this is a bit more complicated and a lot more expensive than getting a dog.
- Cheetahs can reach speeds of 70 mph (113 km/hr) in just 3 seconds; they need about a half hour to rest after a chase.
- Their long tail helps stabilize them and control their steering while they run, similar to a rudder on a boat.
- When running full speed, their stride is 6-7 meters and their feet only touch the ground twice during each stride.
- The cheetah is not able to retract its first digit (thumb), similar to a dog. This helps determine which footprints belong to cheetahs when tracking.
- The tear marks on the cheetahs’ face help reflect glare from the sun, just like a football player with black paint under their eyes.
- The mother cheetah usually cares for 2-8 cubs per litter, but many do not survive past their first year.
For more information, or if you are interested in helping their cause, please refer to the Cheetah Conservation Fund @ https://cheetah.org