A study examines the decline of global cheetah populations. Protected areas (PAs) can help conserve biodiversity but are insufficient for protecting animals such as cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), which are wide-ranging and sparse. Animals living in unprotected areas are exposed to higher levels of threats than those living in PAs. Yet conservationists often do not account for different levels of pressure on species when assessing extinction risks. To determine how protection status affects extinction risks for cheetahs, Sarah Durant and colleagues compiled and analyzed distribution and status data across the species’ range. The authors report a current global population of approximately 7,100 cheetahs, which are now confined to 9% of the animal’s historic range. More than 75% of the cheetahs’ current range lies outside PAs. Modeling suggests that if cheetah population growth rates are suppressed due to increased threats in unprotected areas, extinction rates may increase rapidly as the protected proportion of the population declines. Sensitivity analyses found that the cheetah population growth rate within PAs needs to be high to compensate for declining population in unprotected areas. The authors note that extinction risk for protection-reliant species, such as cheetahs, can be underestimated if the differences in population growth rates between PAs and unprotected land are not acknowledged. According to the authors, holistic approaches to conservation, including community engagement, could improve the survival of protection-reliant species outside PAs. - Read at PNAS.org
Article #16-11122: “The global decline of cheetah Acinonyx jubatus and what it means for conservation,” by Sarah M. Durant et al.