Cheetah Conservation Fund and Other Experts Ask for Reclassification of Cheetahfrom Vulnerable to Endangered Status in New Report
OTJIWARONGO, NAMIBIA (27 Dec 2016) – The wild cheetah population is declining at an alarming rate, prompting conservationists to call upon the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to upgrade its classification of the world’s fastest mammal from vulnerable to the more serious category of endangered.
“We are sounding a loud warning cry, otherwise we may lose the species during our lifetimes”, said Dr Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) and a co-author of the report published 26 Dec. in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Disappearing spots: The global decline of cheetah and what it means for conservation”. The paper is a result of a range wide cheetah program that brought together cheetah researchers throughout the species’ remaining range to compile the best data on habitat and threats facing this iconic big cat.
An estimated 7,100 cheetahs remain scattered across Africa with a small number (approximately 50 or less) in Iran, the last of the Asian sub-species. This represents more than a 90-percent drop from 100 years ago, when the total population was estimated at 100,000. The main reason for the dramatic decline is human encroachment, change in land tenure, large scale fencing, political instability and that the protected area systems are insufficient for long-term survival, with most cheetahs living outside protected areas. According to the report, because of growing human populations, the cheetah has also lost more than of 90 percent of its historic habitat.
Cheetahs, due to their non-aggressive nature, do not fare well in wildlife reserves and other protected areas, where other predators steal their prey and kill their young. This brings cheetahs into close contact with farmers and other rural Africans, leading to increased conflict. Close to 70% of the remaining cheetah population is found outside of protected areas, with about 50% of the population found in southern African countries. These populations fall into ‘ecological traps’ as human wildlife conflict and habitat fragmentation occurs and higher extinction rates occur outside of protected areas. “For instance in Zimbabwe, an 85% decline of the population has occurred in the past 15 years due to land redistribution and politically instability”, said Marker.
“Cheetahs can reduce in numbers very drastically over a short period of time, as predators are more likely to be targeted and removed than smaller species”, said Dr Anne-Schmidt-Kuentzel, CCF’s Research Geneticist and Assistant Director of Animal Health and Research and co-author of the paper. “This fact needs to be taken into consideration when assessing the cheetah’s status”.
In order to circumvent the ramifications of small, isolated populations, a comprehensive understanding of the entire landscape where these populations occur is critical to developing an understanding of the socio-cultural demographic and economy of the communities in which they are found. This will allow for linking incentive-based approaches to assist communities along with policies and management strategies for cheetahs living outside protected areas.
To mitigate, CCF conducts farmer education and community outreach programmes and has introduced the Livestock Guarding Dog to the continent, the single most effective, non-lethal predator control tool. CCF has bred, trained and placed more than 650 of these dogs with Namibian farmers since 1994, and the organization has helped launch similar programmes in Botswanna, South Africa and Tanzania, saving hundreds of cheetah lives.
In addition to human-carnivore conflict and habitat loss, cheetahs are threatened by the illegal pet trade, where demand for cheetah cubs to become pets (predominantly from the Gulf States) drives poaching and smuggling operations in the Horn of Africa. “CCF recently led the efforts for CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to recognise the issues surrounding the illegal trade and poaching, and now steps are being taken to address. At the same time, we also need to look at land use changes, game fencing, and political instability, as those issues are also major factors contributing to this decline”, said Marker.
In Namibia, where CCF is based, cheetah conservation efforts are embraced by the government and the local populace. This has set the stage for the possibility of a cheetah comeback. Namibia has approximately one-third of the world’s cheetahs, earning the country its nickname, “Cheetah Capital of the World”.
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For the past 26 years CCF has worked to secure the cheetah population in Namibia, with the awareness that saving the species means our work must extend past Namibia’s borders. We began our collaborations in Kenya 15 years ago and Angola six years ago. Your support has enabled us to secure more territory for the cheetah in the wild, and CCF needs your help again.
During 2016, CCF's efforts have increased on bolstering our conservation partnerships in Kenya and Angola, two countries with populations of cheetahs facing different conservation challenges.
Kenya is one of the strongholds for cheetah populations in spite of the problems they face with habitat loss, human/wildlife conflict and the illegal pet trade. In January of this year, Kenya was the location chosen for the Pathways Conference, a yearly gathering and training program for scientists, researchers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), focusing on human/wildlife coexistence. I joined representatives from our partner organization, Action for Cheetahs in Kenya, in attending this informative conference. We were able to meet with representatives from international organizations as well as members of the parliament in Kenya, who were eager to become engaged in cheetah conservation.
CCF is currently engaged in ongoing studies focused on building a better understanding of the cheetah population in Angola. Prior to my research expedition in 2010, it was widely believed that the thirty-year civil war had wiped out most of the wildlife in Angola including the wild cheetah population. After a three-day survey, we discovered evidence of cheetahs living in Iona National Park. Since that expedition we have been supporting capacity building and conservation research initiatives to assist government and conservation biologists working in Angola, among 15 other cheetah range countries.
A donation will help ensure that CCF continues to expand its efforts to bring CCF’s proven conservation strategies to other cheetah range countries. By focusing our efforts on restoring ecosystems so that humans and cheetahs can live in harmony side-by-side, and building our scientific understanding of cheetah populations, we will save the species.
Cheetah Conservation Fund and Association of Zoos and Aquariums Join to Present 6th Annual International Cheetah Day
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 1, 2016) – Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), the world’s longest running cheetah research, education and conservation organization, is partnering with the U.S.-based Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) to lead the sixth annual observance of International Cheetah Day this Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. Developed to generate awareness for the cheetah -- Africa’s most endangered big cat -- the two organizations are offering activities to inspire people of all ages to celebrate this feline icon of speed and grace. International Cheetah Day is also intended to educate young learners about the species’ plight through school projects and zoo talks, as well as inspire entire families to get involved with conservation efforts.
“International Cheetah Day serves to remind us that the cheetah, like all wildlife, is a treasure of our planet and its survival depends on human conservation action,” said Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of CCF. “The fate of cheetahs rests with us and the next generation. The species has survived more than three million years through the Ice Age and a genetic bottleneck, only to have its numbers decimated by almost 90 percent in the last century. Unless we act now, we may lose the cheetah during our lifetimes.”
CCF and AZA are encouraging zoos and schools around the world to help spark young people’s interest in conservation by recognizing International Cheetah Day with cheetah-themed activities and classroom lessons. Teaching and outreach materials, including a downloadable activities packet designed for elementary-aged schoolchildren and a PowerPoint presentation with notes, can be accessed through CCF’s websites, www.cheetah.org and www.internationalcheetahday.org. Cheetah photos, videos and social media links are also available for download.
“Not many people have the chance to visit Africa to see cheetahs in person, but they can visit their local AZA-accredited facility to see these and other big cats up close,” said Kris Vehrs, Interim President and CEO of AZA. “AZA members take very seriously their obligation to cheetah conservation, investing nearly $1.6 million in cheetah conservation efforts over the past five years and educating thousands of guests on the plight of the cheetah. In addition, through AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE), AZA members are working with a variety of organizations like Cheetah Conservation Fund to focus resources and raise awareness about why saving cheetahs is important. International Cheetah Day is one day AZA members are proud to support!”
The two organizations also offer suggestions for ways people can celebrate International Cheetah Day:
CCF’s Dr. Marker is internationally recognized as a foremost expert on the cheetah. She designated Dec. 4 as International Cheetah Day in remembrance of Khayam, a cheetah she raised from a cub at Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon. Dr. Marker brought Khayam to Namibia to determine if captive-born cheetahs could be taught to hunt. Their efforts were successful and eventually the pair returned to Oregon. But during this trip, Dr. Marker witnessed wild cheetahs being exterminated by African farmers. In 1990, she launched CCF and permanently relocated to the newly-formed nation to mitigate conflict. Because of her experience with Khayam, Dr. Marker dedicated her life to becoming the cheetah’s champion, and she chose Khayam’s birthday for this important honor.
Association of Zoos & Aquariums
Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. Members of AZA are leaders in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.
CCF’s Conservation Passport, Activity Packet, cheetah photos, videos and social media links can be downloaded for free at www.internationalcheetahday.com
Dr. Laurie Marker, CCF Founder and Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Yannetti, CCF External Relations Manager; email@example.com or 202.716.7756