3 Asiatic cheetah cubs were born in captivity recently. This was exciting, because this species is on the brink of extinction – there is only thought to be about 12 remaining in the wild, down from about 100 in 2010, a survey in 2017 stated fewer than 50 mature individuals.
Is this the last gasp for this species? Will the sight of a young cub like this never occur again?
While the Cheetah has suffered a horrific fall in range and numbers in the world over the last century, there are some hopes for the species.
Cheetah are not big cats- this means that they often struggle to thrive in small reserves alongside other big cats. What this has meant is that in many countries there are more cheetah outside reserves than inside reserves. This is primarily the case in Southern Africa, in particular Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe where the most free ranging cheetah currently live. To a lesser extent, there are also free ranging cheetah in east Africa in Tanzania and Kenya.
The cheetah have arrived in India, and have been introduced into enclosures within the Kuno national park. At the current time, the enclosures are just 15x30m so a similar size to a large zoo enclosure. They will stay in this enclosure for a month in order for the team to be sure that their health is good.
After this, they will be shifted into a 1 kilometre square enclosure for up to another 4 months before being released fully into the Kuno national park.
A further 12 cheetah will be transferred next month with roughly 50 agreed to be transferred over the next few years.
The simple question, though, is that cheetah do not do well in small reserves in Africa, as they cannot compete with large cats like lions or leopards (or in India, Tigers). With far less space, and a much greater density of people in India, is there going to be space for the returning cheetah? Furthermore, this situation is not likely to improve in the near future: predictions are that, without a significant break on fertility rates, India’s population could exceed 2 billion by the end of the century. In this senario, it is hard to see how there is space for much wildlife at all.
I don’t know what your feelings towards cheetah, for many of not most people they have vague idea of the cheetah because it’s the fastest animal on earth. My family have a model cheetah, full size, something I’ve always loved – and it built a deep love for these animals. I was lucky enough to see one whole in the Kruger – not many at the time, so very lucky. I hope this time we will see more
However, for perhaps most they know little else. I have written on them many times, I believe they are an essential tool for conservation. Given their size, they don’t generally attack humans, and kill livestock far less. Having a historic range that encompasses most of Africa and much of Asia, there are many places they could be, but instead they face extinction once again.
In liwonde national park, 4 species of vulture; all considered critically endangered have returned. What has prompted this? Well the reintroduction of lion and cheetah has retires some meat two be put out and this has attached the vultures.
The park is a little over 2000 square miles (5500 square km) and the cheetah population has reached 42.
Lion and cheetah were lost around 2000, and as a result the vultures left.
The problem is that was vultures are the main group cleaning up bodies, without them the bodies started and rotted. This was a perfect breeding ground for various illnesses that threaten the lives of both humans and livestock.
Farmers will often take revenge on livestock killings by poisoning the body. This usually like the lions, along with any scavengers that come along such as jackals and hennas.
However, it can have a decorating impact on vultures. Due to their way of finding near to scavenge, there can often be 20-30 vultures waiting while the lion eats – if a kill is poisened, it can kill every vulture for miles around.
Both lions and cheetah are missing from dozens of countries across Africa and Asia, places they historically roamed. While lions can cause more issues, cheetah cannot generally kill much livestock. As a result, there will be dozens of reserves where cheetah could return, allowing the reserve to start to operate more as it once did. Once this happens, tourists will start visiting and this leads to money which can help the rest of the reserves rejunivatiom. This in turn makes return of lions far easier, as assist from bringing in the funds to compensate livestock losses, it also brings in lots of money – allowing poor farmers to make more money and raise the standard of living for their family.
There has been an update. The first batch of cheetah will be moved to Kuno reserve, in August, 5-6 Cheetah will be moved to Kuno reserve in the first batch.
Kuno reserve was supposed to be the place that Asiatic lions were due to be moved to before Gujarat claimed exclusive ownership – and therefore refused to translocate the lions. The fact that cheetah are being introduced to Kuno should not rule out lions following, though Gujurat is still behaving badly on this front.
What should we make of this? Well in theory, Iranian cheetah would be far better. Unfortunately the cheetah is doing so badly, that it would be impossible to translocate cheetah to India, without risking eliminating the cheetah in Iran. African cheetah are very similar, and I would argue that a similar animal is better than none filling this ecological niche.
Trade of wild cheetah from east Africa (including the horn of Africa) to be kept as status symbols in the Arabian peninsula has thankfully declined, but has not been eradicated. Indeed, this decline may well be more down to better policing on the smuggling route and less down to a change in circumstance. All of the problem countries have laws banning the keeping of these animals yet these are not effectively enforced – when a cheetah or other exotic animal arrives in the Middle east it is likely too late, they are probably never going to be able to be returned to the wild. If as is usually the case, it is a cub, it is highly likely that the mother was killed in the cubs capture.
Reports of cheetahs for sale occur almost every week in the gulf states. In many states, keeping cheetahs as pets only became illegal in recent times UAE for instance only banned cheetahs as pets in 2017.
The problem is that (as readers of this blog will know) cheetah live in small and isolated populations – as a result, taking just 10 cheetah from a reserve could lead to the local extinction of the animal.
Other animals including chimpanzees orangutans and gibbons also enter these countries. It is essential that proper education of populations in countries like this is undertaken, so that they know these animals were not bred in captivity. Many of the owners would be horrified to learn that their action is causing these animals to be wiped out in the wild.
Global work on wildlife smuggling is far from over, and becomes only more and more urgent. There are many species that could be wiped out if we fail.
If you have friends looking for exotic animals as pets do encourage them not to, or we will find that our children will never be able to see cheetah in the wild where they belong.
At the minimum, the Amur leopard population fell to as low as 30 individuals. The Asiatic cheetah is therefore far closer to extinction. At the current time there are thought to be 9 males and 3 females left in the wild. Given that in 2010 there were around 100, while this is still a highly threatened species clearly the threats to their continued existence have not gone away.