Current statistics show that there are currently around 21000 white rhino and 5000 black rhino left on earth, that’s a total of approximately 26000 African rhino, this excludes the greater one horned rhino, the Sumatran rhino and the Javen rhino together this will put the world population at around 30 200 rhinos. In comparison we currently have an estimated 7000 cheetah left in the wild. If we deduct the Namibian population we stand at a mere 3500 left in the wild globally. Very few of these cheetahs are known to be free roaming and tend to occur in national and private reserves. This means that natural movement and breeding is halted due to boundary fences keeping them from their natural behavior. As much as the current poaching is destroying the rhino population, inbreeding and restricted movement is destroying the cheetah population. As males only have introduced females to mate with, mating with offspring and siblings will take place if not controlled very carefully, this in turn creates a weak gene pool and will eventually lead to the demise of those fenced in cheetahs if left to their own devises.
Unfortunately these fences cannot simply be removed as most of these reserves are bordered by human settlements or other commercial farms, so our only option is to monitor and control the cheetah populations within these boundaries. In central South Africa a huge expanse of land exists known as the Karoo. This area has a very low rain fall and is only suited to sheep and game farming. This land is relatively cheap to purchase due to the limited farming resources in the area. On the flip side this is ideal cheetah territory, with large open expanses and an abundance of small antelope. This could be the ideal area for a cheetah mega reserve, where these cats can populate, breed and prosper. From this area wild bred cheetahs can be swapped with other suitable reserves current cheetahs to so increase genetic diversity.
This mega reserve will be dedicated to the cheetah as specie. Just as humans are responsible for the rapidly declining rhino populations through poaching, so too are humans responsible for the decline in cheetah numbers, although not through poaching but simply as a result of ignorance. We have left this problem too long and have not made the public aware of the plight of the cheetah until recently. Our time has run out and we are on the verge of a natural disaster if we do not react now.
As I have mentioned habitat is available and action needs to be taken to acquire this habitat. We have lost focus of the real issues causing cheetah fatalities throughout Africa. A genetic bottleneck has produced inferior cheetahs and to add insult to injury most cheetahs are left to their own devises and inbreeding on top of an already poor genetic foundation is the cause of many cheetah deaths.
The predator conflict is yet another aspect that is more often than not overlooked. Scientist say that it is the natural cycle of life that the bigger, more abundant apex predators kill off the smaller more vulnerable predators as competition for food is inevitable. This only rings true in the ideal world, where cheetahs have hundreds of thousands of hectares to roam free on, and are not confined to small fenced off reserves where those apex predators can eliminate them without much effort. It is sad that in countries like Namibia, cheetahs are seen as pest by most farmers. These animals have a natural inclination to hunt the slower easy to catch prey. And in their case this includes sheep and goats. I understand that these cats are literally eating into the farmers profit margin, but then should we not revisit the CITES rule of moving cheetahs across boarders instead of having them shot by farmers who see them as a vermin. Can we not get those cats into reserves within South Africa as they are ultimately genetically superior to most of the Southern African cheetahs?
The idea of breeding cheetah for the eventual release back into the wild seems to be the only hope for the species even though it is frowned upon by many. This reluctance to breed for the purpose of release is completely understandable as the majority of breeders out there are in it for the money. The export of captive bred cheetahs to private owners or zoos all over the globe is big business. But if breeding institutions are better monitored and controlled then this problem can be managed. A thought would be to only let projects breed with cheetah if they give a percentage of their cubs to a program like Running Wild Conservation to be trained and readied for eventual release. Our wild population cannot sustain itself anymore, this has been shown over and over but still certain individuals and organizations are against captive breeding. Yes I agree there are some horrific places out there that should not be permitted to have any form of animal on their property let alone breed with them. But then these individuals and organizations should shift their focus to these places and end there vendetta against the facilities trying their utmost to save the cheetah from extinction.
Running Wild Conservation is one such place that has dedicated all our time, effort, money and devotion to the plight of the cheetah. A place where absolutely no trading with these cats takes place and the sole purpose of breeding is to supplement the dwindling wild population for people like you reading this blog and your children to have the opportunity to see these magnificent cats in the wild someday. Running Wild Conservation believe in what we do and have a proven track record showing that our ten step process for eventual release is successful and does assist in adding more genetically correct, healthy adult cats into a unstable wild population in desperate need of help. But we cannot achieve this alone.
Financially this is a huge burden and due to the fact that no animals are sold even after release just complicates it even more. Another factor is that we need quite a large breeding stock to keep supplementing the wild population, so we have turned to other ethical breeding projects to help supply us with young animals that can be put through the ten step process and get them ready for release. The cost to raise a cub and take it through the complete process, then to release and monitor the animal after release goes into the hundreds of thousands of Rands. But even so Running Wild Conservation pushes forward and will not give up on these animals.
I suggest we all think very hard and very long before we either criticize such an institution or before we just shrug off a plea of help from just such a place, for if we do we are ultimately responsible for the extinction of the cheetah.
For more information visit www.runningwildconservation.org