The polka-dotted missiles of the wild
In a world where everyone and everything is in a race against the clock, the mocking growl of a Cheetah from the African savannahs puts it all to shame. The sight of a well-camouflaged black-spotted cat peeking through the grey hued grasses sends a chill down the spine of any creature big or small.
Apart from its spine chilling appearance, the cheetah is armed with lightning speeds and bewildering agility allowing it to make quick and sudden turns in hunting prey.
Scientifically known as Acinonyx jubatus, these mammalian big cats are fierce carnivores who use their exceptional eyesight to scan the hunting ground before making a quick decision to leap on the unsuspecting prey.
Being the fastest land animal to exist on earth with accelerations that leave most automobiles to the dust, an average cheetah can reach up to about 70 miles per hour in less than three seconds. These felines with an average life span of about 10 to 12 in the wild are native to the grasslands and open plains of Africa and Iran with the existing populations known to be under pressure and at a decreasing population trend as the wide-open grasslands they favor are currently at high risk at the hands of human habitants.
The IUCN placed cheetahs under the Vulnerable conservation status as a result of increasing threats on habitat loss and fragmentation of populations evident in the extinction of the once-dominant Asiatic cheetahs from India, restricting them to a population of about 50 in a remote corner of Iran. Studies also show the disappearance of cheetahs from 90% of their historic range in Africa.
Due to 76% of the wild cheetahs roaming in ranges that are unprotected lands, the risk of being persecuted in retaliation for livestock or game depredation is at the highest. All these threats collectively have limited the numbers left in the wild to a total of approximately 6500 individuals and their future still remains uncertain across their range.
A plethora of conservation measures has been taken including the protection of cheetahs under the CITES convention, the Range Wide Conservation Program for Cheetah & African Wild Dogs (RWCP) in Africa, the complete protection of the Asiatic cheetah in Iran, and similar national and international level projects.
Although known to be unbeatable in any race, it is now a question whether these majestic felines are now in a race for survival with the potential results being alarming. Hence as students in STEM, it is our only hope that these marvelous creations of nature remain unbeaten against all odds in the years to come.
By Rtr. Tharini Cabraal