Less than 10,000 cheetah remain today and they face extraordinary challenges of survival. Population declines of 90% over the past 100 years have seen this majestic predator resign itself to life in a few small pockets in Africa, now extinct from 18 countries of its original range. They are Africa’s most endangered cat.
An evolutionary marvel, the cheetah’s unique physiology allows it to wear the crown as the fastest land animal, reaching speeds of up to 100km/h in under three seconds. Semi-retractable claws gripping the earth like football cleats, enlarged heart and lungs enabling rapid response rates, aerodynamic frame, enormous stride and the iconic tear marks, reducing glare during the chase – the makings of a formidable hunter.
Roaming the plains, they play a critical role in maintaining the delicate balance of natural systems. Healthy grasslands are cultivated with the natural ebb and flow of prey numbers, kept in check by these higher order predators and scavenging species feast on the remains of left over kills. The complex interweaving of much broader species survival and the role of each becomes apparent as you dig beneath the surface of their existence.
Cheetah have survived two near brushes with extinction, experiencing population bottlenecks that all but wiped out this elegant hunter.
Hopefully, they’ll survive the third – the human induced one.
Habitat loss and human persecution are the key drivers of population decline. As humans and cheetahs home ranges overlap, the door for conflict is thrown open. Their future is literally in the hands of these communities that live in these strikingly beautiful lands in and amongst Africa's wildlife.
Cheetah, along with every other species, has a role to play. Nature has it figured out. Our ecosystems are delicate in their complexity and provide us with the necessary ecological services that underpin our own survival.
Healthy wildlife and ecosystems support healthy people and economies and is a foundational pillar in advancing sustainable development goals and ultimately, human well-being.
Reflecting on this today, it’s a timely reminder that it is our individual responsibility to create a more sustainable future where people coexist with nature. We all benefit. It’s not just about the species, it’s about all of us and its in our hands.