JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Animal extinction is nothing new to our planet, but now animal species we’ve always known to be common are starting to thin out at alarming rates due to human activity. Scientists now recommend that Cheetahs be added to the endangered species list as soon as possible because of their dwindling numbers.
In the Cheetah exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, “Steve” and Rojo” are two cheetahs being cared for and studied by trainers and zoologists. They play a vital role in what’s known as S.S.P. – or Species Survival Plan – a program in which zoos all over the country are using together to coordinate resources to promote species sustainability and help save populations at risk.
The two male Cheetahs in Jacksonville have been at the zoo since they were cubs. They are “genetically valuable as a support population to the Cheetahs in the wild”, according to staff.
Right now, only about 7,000 cheetahs are left in the wild, down from 100,000 a century ago. The remaining cheetahs live throughout Africa, with only about 50 others still living in Iran.
A 2016 study shows a 40% decline in the Cheetah population since 1975 and it estimates Cheetahs have been driven out of about 91% of their land.
Hunting Cheetahs is illegal, but poaching is still one of the main reasons for their decline across Africa.
“It is illegal, but if it is a threat to a farmer’s livelihood and they perceive those Cheetahs to be a threat to their livestock they will take the risk,” said Lucas Meers, the Conservation Specialist at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. “And also their prey species is being hunted as well so they are getting hit at from all different angles.”
Another problem is that poaching is not being controlled or punished, thus, it keeps happening.
“We’re thinking of Africa, this a huge continent, these countries don’t have the resources to actually enforce these laws,” said Meers.
In addition to poaching, they are being driven out of their land for construction purposes. As humankind continues to build, they continue to run out of room to live.
USAToday reports that besides habitat loss, there is also an ongoing “illegal trade in cheetah cubs, the trafficking of cheetah skins and the threat of getting hit by speeding vehicles”.
Another factor in their decline is the increase in toxins in their environment due to pollution.
Meers says the best answer to this growing issue is to support their fellow cheetah organizations working in Botswana and Namibia.
Organizations like the Cheetah Conservation Fund work with farmers in Africa on alternative solutions so they can live in peace with Cheetahs instead of hunt them. They work with communities to try to preserve the land needed for cheetahs to thrive. They also educate families, especially children, on the importance of cheetahs in the wild. Anyone can help donate, raise awareness or volunteer with these organizations.
Outside of Africa, something we can all do to protect animals is reduce our carbon footprint. By simply biking to work, carpooling or “going green” in other aspects of our life we can help better the environment for all animals.
“It’s up to us to help save Cheetahs in the wild,” said Meers.
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