A cheetah looks out over the savanna

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Cheetah Conservation

70 mph, But Can’t Outrun Extinction

Habitat loss, conflict with humans, and the illegal wildlife trade have caused cheetah populations to plummet by 90%. Now, these iconic cats are closer to extinction than ever before—if we don’t speed up our efforts to save them, we’ll lose cheetahs forever. But you can give them a fighting chance in their sprint for survival.

On the left, a cute cheetah cub looks at you. On the right, a cute cheetah cub walks along a log.

Fluffy and adorable, it's easy to see why cheetah cubs are in high demand as exotic pets. While people who buy "pet" cheetahs typically have good intentions, most aren't able to properly care for the animals—especially fragile cubs—and the cheetahs often die from malnutrition, illness, or other complications.

Illegal Wildlife Trade

With their big brown eyes, polka dots, and fluffy fur sticking out every which way, cheetah cubs look like fuzzy cartoon characters. Their never-ending purrs, playful antics, and adorable faces make them irresistible. But this over-the-top cuteness also makes them irresistible to the illegal pet trade.

Baby cheetahs are easy targets for poachers. Tiny and defenseless, they're scooped up from the savannas of Africa, trafficked to other countries, and sold on the black market. Countless cubs have been stolen from their mothers and smuggled thousands of miles to waiting buyers. Estimates suggest that only one in six cubs survives the grueling journey.

A cheetah stalks through the tall grass

Capable of sprinting 70 miles per hour, cheetahs need lots of open space to chase prey and plenty of tall grass in which to hide.

Habitat Loss

Once found throughout Africa, Asia, and India, these distinctive cats now only inhabit small pockets of savanna in eastern and southern Africa, making them the continent's most endangered big cat. They're entirely extinct in Asia, except for a very small, isolated population in Iran.

Capable of sprinting 70 miles per hour, cheetahs need lots of open space for chasing down a meal. They also need plenty of tall grass to use as cover for sneaking up on prey, before the chase, and hiding cubs from other predators. But flat, open land is also appealing to humans, and populations of this spotted sprinter are affected by the creation of roads, settlements, and farms.

A mother cheetah and her three cubs look out over the tall grass

Cheetah cubs stay with their mothers until they're about 18 months old, if they survive that long. Many cubs fall prey to lions, leopards, and hyenas. To protect them, a mother moves her cubs frequently, hiding them in tall grass.

Human-Wildlife Conflict

National parks and wildlife reserves tend to have higher densities of large predators, who compete for food and steal cheetah meals. Cheetahs aren’t strong enough to hide or guard their catch, and don’t usually scavenge for food—if they lose their meal to another animal, they have to start over.

In addition, lions, hyenas, and leopards can easily kill an adult cheetah and won’t hesitate to prey on a cub. Because of this, most cheetahs live outside of protected areas, alongside settlements and farms, which puts them in contact with people.

Because cheetahs hunt in the morning and evening, people see them more often than other predators, which tend to be nocturnal hunters. Sometimes, a cheetah will prey on domestic sheep or goats in desperation. Other times, cheetahs are mistakenly blamed for preying on livestock, simply because they are more visible than other suspects. In either case, the outcome is devastating, and no one wins.

A cheetah lays in the long grass

Unlike other big cats, who are sturdy and muscular, cheetahs are slender and built for speed, weighing 145 pounds at most. They're peaceful and tend to avoid altercations, preferring to flee instead.

You Can Help

Wild cats around the world are in danger of disappearing forever. Wildlife trafficking, habitat loss, and deadly conflicts with people have devastated cat populations, bringing many species to the brink of extinction, but you can save them.

With your support, we can protect wild cats worldwide and halt their decline. Your tax-deductible donation to the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy will help save wild cats around the world.

photo credits | all images iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images | hero image: mlharing | cheetah stalking through grass: wilpunt | cheetah mother with cubs: Stefonlinton | cheetah close-up: WILLSIE