Scientific name: Acinonyx jubatus
Current range: sub-Saharan Africa
Conservation status: Vulnerable
Threats: habitat loss/fragmentation, over-hunting, low genetic diversity
Related research: C2S2’s cheetah conservation program
With long legs and a sleek, aerodynamic body, the cheetah is built for speed and can reach over 70 mph, making it the world’s fastest land animal. The fossil record has revealed that the cheetah has been on earth for millions of years. Yet, despite being one of the oldest living cat species, the cheetah has experienced a remarkable decline in numbers due to habitat loss and persecution. The cheetah currently is found in pockets within Africa with perhaps a total population ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 individuals, with the greatest numbers in Namibia.
While being a keystone predator in nature, the cheetah in zoos is a charismatic and popular ambassador for all African wildlife. The cheetah is a wonderful example of a highly specialized species with unique morphology, genetics and physiology, all of which allows special learning opportunities for the public of all ages. The cheetah’s popularity has also helped to raise significant funds for conserving the species in the wild.
Cheetahs in breeding centers and zoos also serve another purpose – as animals to be studied to understand complex biological mechanisms that can never be learned from wild individuals because of they are so elusive. In fact, much of what is now known about the specialized and unique reproductive biology, endocrinology, nutrition, disease susceptibility and low genetic diversity of this species has been learned from studying cheetahs in captivity.
Conservation in Action
The cheetah is protected under national legislation throughout most of its range. Additionally, non-governmental organizations have been developed that are dedicated to its survival. Besides studies done in the field (ranging from population surveys to improved monitoring of disease status), there has been significant emphasis on building community awareness, especially educating local people to live in harmony with this predator.
Institutional members of the Conservation Centers for Species Survival have decades of experience in managing and breeding cheetahs and conducting research with, and supporting, wild populations. Currently, C2S2 has two areas of focus. The first is to increase scientific knowledge, especially in helping and improving reproductive health and success. Secondly, C2S2 is keen to understand the factors that determine why some cheetahs reproduce and others do not. C2S2 is exploring innovative ways to use its collective resources to create the first-ever, self-sustaining cheetah population that can help (1) serve as insurance for wild counterparts, (2) as ambassadors to educate the public and (3) as a source of new biological information. Learn more about C2S2’s cheetah conservation program