Cheetahs are an iconic animal of the African savannah, but scientists warn that this majestic cat and other large carnivores are on the verge of extinction – and humans are to blame.
Along with the spotted mammals, there are wild dogs and hyenas that could soon disappear due to habitat loss, human persecution and reduced prey.
Oxford University researchers found that the plight of the animals has been overlooked due to the focus on lions, leopards and other apex predators and that regions such as South Africa, Kenya and Northwest and Central Africa are underrepresented.
In particular, 26 countries are currently missing published estimates – most notably Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Chad.
According to scientists, identifying knowledge gaps will improve conservation efforts by directing funding, investments and priorities.
Cheetahs living in the African savannah are on the brink of extinction, but a lack of attention to the region has left dwindling numbers unnoticed
Lead author Dr. Paolo Strampelli, from the University of Oxford, said: ‘Research efforts have focused significantly on lions and on striped hyenas, despite the latter being the species with the largest continental range.
“African wild dogs also showed a negative bias in research attention, although this is partly explained by their relatively limited distribution.”
The African savanna ecosystem is a tropical grassland with year-round warm temperatures and seasonal rainfall.
The savannah is characterized by grasses and small or scattered trees and is the largest biome in South Africa – covering 46 percent of the region.
The savanna (dark, light brown color) is characterized by grasses and small or scattered trees and is the largest biome in South Africa – covering 46 percent of the region
It includes Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote D’ivore, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi , Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa.
Scientists estimate that there are fewer than 8,000 African cheetahs in all of Africa.
Due to a lack of research on the savannah, scientists are unable to determine how many live in the region, but it is likely less than half.
Data from 2016 showed the population was around 2,000 and 90 percent live in protected areas.
“Our findings highlight the urgent need for additional assessments of the cheetah population, particularly in North, West and Central Africa,” Strampelli said.
‘Because of their large country reach, studies in Chad and Ethiopia in particular should be considered a priority.’
Hyenas thrive throughout Africa, numbering more than 100,000 individuals, but that number decreases dramatically in the savannah.
Wild dogs, however, suffer the most – an estimated 70 adults are left in the wild.
The study in the journal PeerJ is the first of its kind – based on a systematic review of population assessments over the past two decades.
The international team found that monitoring of biodiversity may not be evenly distributed or taking place where it is most needed.
Computer models showed that the assessments focused on South Africa and Kenya. North, West and Central Africa are underrepresented.
Hyenas thrive across Africa, numbering over 100,000 individuals, but that number drops dramatically in the savannah
Wild dogs, however, suffer the most – an estimated 70 adults are left in the wild
Most of the studies have been conducted in tourist areas under government management; unprotected and trophy-hunting regions received less attention.
Reducing prejudice would help ensure that all species and areas of conservation importance have an adequate knowledge base available, potentially improving their prospects, scientists say.
Strampelli and colleagues called on donors and foreign researchers to maximize the involvement of local scientists, students and practitioners in future assessments.
Those include providing training, financing and equipment. Donors and funders should encourage efforts in underserved regions and species.
This ensures that conservation takes place where it is most needed. Population assessments of striped hyenas are required.
Further population assessments of African wild dogs are essential, especially given that the species is endangered.
Such efforts are especially needed in countries identified as critical for the species.
Recent assessments have not been carried out in some countries, including Botswana and Tanzania.
“There is an urgent need for additional assessments of the cheetah population, particularly in North, West and Central Africa,” Strampelli said.
‘Because of their large distribution area, studies in Chad and Ethiopia in particular should be considered a priority.
“As in the case of the African wild dog, the development and standardization of techniques for monitoring the cheetah population is recommended, including the exploration of citizen science-based approaches.”