Brief description of the animal
Sole species of the gender Acinonyx, the cheetah (Acinonyxjubatus) is a tall and slender animal belonging to the cat family.His face has very distinctive markings with lachrymal or ‘tears’ streaks that are only found for this species. Although, their role might be for reducing glare during the day as well as reinforcing defensive facial expression during fights, it is still very unclear.
Initially widespread in southern Africa, the current population (mainly in fenced reserves) declined significantly between 2009 and 2012. The species favours savanna woodland, grasslands, scrublands as well as being well adapted to arid savannas (e.g. southern Kalahari).
As the only felids adapted for long high-speed pursuits (semi-retractile claws for better grip while running), the cheetah hunts small to medium-sized antelopes with a large preference for the impala in his south African range.
As the lion, the cheetah has a complex social system with females being asocial while males are more in groups. Males can even form strong coalitions that allow them to catch bigger preys such as wildebeest. As a matter of fact, the cheetah has the largest recorded range among felids.
They breed yearly with peaks especially during lambing season. The gestation period lasts around 90 days and they usually give birth to three or six cubs. The cubs become independent at 17-18 month average with males staying together whereas the females disperse. Sexual maturity is reach around 20 months for females and only 12 months for males.
The average lifespan for cheetah is between 11-12 years in the wild and 21 in captivity.
Current threats mostly comprises habitat loss and fragmentation due to the conversion of free-roaming lands to farmlands. This change induces the prey replacement by livestock that cheetah are now hunting which cause conflicts and persecutions with farmers. Worldwide, it has lost 80% of his historical range with roughly 4 000- 5 000 individuals in Southern Africa. As a result, the cheetah is currently red-listed as Vulnerable (VU) globally as the population trend is indicating a decrease.
Importance of the species
As a predator, cheetah has a key role on the ecosystem by maintaining and regulating populations of herbivores, thus avoiding overpopulation. If it has to disappear, the cascade effect it creates would cause prey population to increase and therefore, it would lead to a drastic decrease of food resources (i.e., vegetation) due to the overpopulated animals eating appetite. Furthermore, other medium-sized predators would also increase which will create critical conflicts with human populations.
Why reintroducing it?
Their range got reduced and limited by increased fencing (game reserves, protected areas…). This led to drastically endanger the population that was already genetically weaken. By reintroducing this species in reserves and protective areas benefits greatly not only to the carnivores’population but also herbivores.
But the process isn’t simple and requires high scientific assessments and supervision.