Let's not cheat the cheetah
The cheetah is built for speed. In fact, it’s the fastest land animal, reaching speeds up to 120 km/h. It has a long body, strong, lean legs and can go from 0 to 68 mph/h in 3 seconds. Unfortunately, it can’t outrun its own declining numbers.
By Sandie lee Muncaster
But in order to fix the future we have to look at the past. Around 3000 BC Sumerian royalty kept cheetahs as pets. These prized cats were depicted in paintings and were believed to escort the pharaoh’s soul to the afterlife. Asian emperors of this time also kept cheetahs as a means of hunting. Hundreds of cheetahs were taken from the wild for this purpose and because of this continuous drain, numbers quickly dwindled. However, this "hunting leopard" practice didn’t stop there. In the 1900s India and Iran began to import cheetahs from Africa for the same reason, leaving the once flourishing population down to mere thousands.
With the practice of taming and domesticating cheetahs came the problem with inbreeding. Today, molecular genetic studies of the wild cheetah show a lack of genetic variation and is believed to be part of the reason why cheetah cubs don’t often live to see adulthood. This in combination with poaching, the loss of habitat, and local farmers armed with guns, has put this magnificent beast on the endangered list.
The good news is with the understanding of this problem conservationists can now work towards a solution. There are many dedicated organisations helping the cheetah population regain its status. Check out Mountain Zebra National Park in the Eastern Cape. Cheetahs haven’t been present in this area for over 100 years, but in 2007, four cheetahs were introduced and have now flourished to over 30! Visitors to the park also have the opportunity to track cheetahs in the company of armed rangers. Tracking devices now give researchers – and visitors – an opportunity to look for and learn about these beautiful animals.
How can you help?
- Teach your children and those around you about the plight of the cheetah.
- Find out which organisations are doing work to help cheetahs and make a contribution in whatever way you can. You could make a donation, contribute by doing volunteer work, or even buy something small like a car bumper sticker or a Woolworths shopping bag – every bit helps. SANParks supports the cheetah project at the Ajubatus Foundation – click here to find out more.
- Add a cheetah banner to your website, social media pages or blog to help create awareness.
- Sign up to email newsletters or information sites that keep you updated on Africa’s most endangered cat. In this way you can keep informed of progress and research that’s being done.
Let’s not cheat the cheetah out of its right to flourish. Together we can make a difference.
Did You Know...?
- Cheetahs have disappeared from approximately 77 percent of their native African lands.
- Estimates show there are less than 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild.
- South Africa has over 38 reserves dedicated to repopulating the cheetah species.
- There is no record of a cheetah attacking a human.
© Image by Janet Kleyn
PrintWild is giving one lucky Wild Card member the chance to win an A2 premium stretched canvas valued at R554 in support of cheetahs. Want to win? Tell us the name of the National Park where you can go cheetah tracking in the Eastern Cape. Send your name and Wild Card number with 'cheetahs' in the subject line to email@example.com before 30 September 2012.
The canvas will have this beautiful photograph by Mark Dumbleton of a cheetah chasing a bird. Click here find out more or order your own specialised canvas.