Today, cheetahs are found in isolated pockets throughout southern and eastern Africa, and there is a small population (estimated around 100 individuals) of cheetahs in Iran. The strongest cheetah populations are in Namibia, where most cheetahs live on commercial farms.
Cheetahs are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which globally evaluates the conservation status of plant and animal species. The current known wild cheetah population ranges between 7,500 and 10,000 individuals.
The biggest threats facing cheetahs are the decline in prey, loss of habitat, poaching, and indiscriminate trapping and shooting. Additionally, in places like Namibia where the cheetah population lives on farmland and occasionally kills farmers’ livestock, human retaliation against the cheetah threatens the cat’s ultimate survival.
Cheetah populations also suffer from a low level of genetic diversity, meaning most of the cheetahs alive today are related to one another. This means that increased health and survival risks exist for cheetahs as inbreeding increases the risk of genetic diseases and deformities.
The keys to cheetah conservation in the wild rely on conservation of habitat and prey animals, education of local peoples about the cheetah’s importance in a healthy ecosystem, and maintaining healthy populations of cheetahs in the wild. Any successful long-term cheetah conservation plan will involve livestock management, human-cheetah conflict management, protection of habitat, education about the cheetah, and in-depth, long-term scientific studies of wild cheetahs.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and Cheetah Conservation
The Columbus Zoo has a long-standing commitment to conservation around the world, including a grants program that provides direct support to more than 70 projects in 34 countries around the world. In the past five years, the Columbus Zoo has contributed more than $3.8 million to protect species from freshwater mussels in Ohio to the disappearing cheetah in Namibia.
Part of the funds received for the Animal Encounters program goes directly to the Columbus Zoo’s Conservation Fund; this means that Ro and Rhe, while being excellent ambassadors for cheetah conservation, will also raise money for saving their wild counterparts. The Zoo has supported several different cheetah conservation projects in the past; in 2008, the Zoo was proud to support
· Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia
· Cheetah Conservation Fund in Kenya
· De Wildt Wild Cheetah Project in South Africa
· Anatolian Shepherd Guard Dog Project in South Africa
· Matabeleand Leopard and Cheetah Project in Zimbabwe