Cheetahs may be fast but the question that wildlife biologists ask is, are they fast enough to outrun extinction? Today cheetahs are an endangered species. Like all spotted and striped cats, cheetahs have long been under pressure by the fur trade. But, over-hunting is not the principle problem facing cheetahs. Loss of habitat, competition with large predators and ranchers, as well as its own loss of genetic variation, is killing off the remaining cheetahs. The real threat to cheetahs is that there is not room enough for them and their needs on a crowded continent.
Once open, free range land is now fenced, which makes it difficult for predator and prey. In addition, cheetahs are believed to be in direct competition with the local ranchers, which makes them constant targets for trapping and hunting. Today it is hard to imagine that just 100 years ago Africa was a wild and open place, with small pockets of human agriculture and development. Now when you fly over much of the continent in a small plane, you observe vast farms, ranches and human settlements with only pockets of wild areas protected in national parks. Much wildlife, especially big wildlife - such as elephants and rhinos - are relegated to live within the boundaries of those parks for their own protection. But, cheetahs can live successfully in agricultural areas if farmers and ranchers can value cheetahs by learning their natural behaviors.
Cheetahs are best known for living in the grasslands of East Africa , in vast national parks like the Serengeti or Masai Mara. However, cheetahs can range throughout any open country, from savannah to scrubland to desert, wherever there is adequate prey for them to survive. Today the Southwestern African country of Namibia is home to one of the largest populations of cheetah in all of Africa .
Namibia is a desert country, and much like America 's southwest, cattle and sheep ranching are the principle agricultural efforts. As a result, cheetahs are thought to be in direct conflict with ranchers and are exterminated in high numbers. In fact, the Namibian cheetah population has declined by half in the last ten years. Still, an excellent opportunity exists to develop progressive conservation strategies for this endangered cat. That is why the Cincinnati Zoo has partnered with the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia . Through the efforts of Cathryn Hilker at the Cincinnati Zoo, 28,000 acres have been set aside as a reserve for cheetahs and the headquarters for the CCF, which is directed by Laurie Marker.
Everyone involved agrees about what it is going to take to save cheetahs in Namibia :
1. Establishing long-term conservation strategies for the cheetahs throughout their range;
2. Developing better livestock management practices, to eliminate the need for ranchers to kill so many cheetahs;
3. Creating conservation education programs for local villagers, ranchers and school children. That way we can insure a future for the fastest cat in the world.
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