The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

05 September 2007

Save the Cheetah

The world's fastest land animal, the sleek and long-legged cheetah, Acinonyx Jubatus, is losing its race for survival. Once a common animal found on five continents, the cheetah is now an endangered species.

Loss of habitat, conflict with humans, as well as its own loss of genetic variation, are the main threats facing the cheetah today. The cheetah needs large expanses of land to survive, but with changes in land use and habitat pressures, such as bush encroachment, this area is becoming smaller and smaller. Unfortunately, captive breeding efforts have not proved meaningful to the cheetah's hopes of survival.

Cheetahs can reach speeds of over 70 mph, but they are extremely clumsy fighters. The result is that although the cheetahs are the best hunters in Africa, they lose much of their prey to the more aggressive predators, such as lions and hyenas, who chase them away and steal their food.

In 1900, more than 100,000 cheetahs were found in 44 countries throughout Africa and Asia. Today only 12,000 to 15,000 animals remain, existing mostly in small-pocketed populations in 24 to 26 countries in Africa, and less than 100 in Iran. The cheetah is classified as an endangered species.

The largest population of cheetahs is in Namibia. But there was a drastic decline of the number of cheetahs in that country in the 1980s, when the population halved over the decade, and now there are less than 2,500 animals remaining.

Dr. Laurie Marker founded and the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia in 1990, having worked with cheetahs since 1974. Her aim was to find a solution for the continued existence of the cheetah and to stabilise the population of animals in the wild.

Dogs are the answer! The removal of lions and leopards from the farmlands, in addition to plentiful natural prey animals and an abundance of water, have allowed the cheetah to exist on Namibian farms. This sharing of land and resources has led to conflict, with the cheetah on the losing end.

In the 1980's, Namibia was hit hard by drought. The cheetah's natural prey base died or was killed by farmers to reduce grazing and watering pressures on their livestock. With little natural prey to hunt, some cheetahs were forced to prey on livestock. Many farmers considered the cheetah a major threat to their livelihood.

In Namibia, cheetahs are a protected species. But when cheetahs come into conflict with humans and their livestock, farmers are allowed to "remove" the animal. Trapping and shooting cheetahs that are suspected of being a threat to livestock is permitted. Sometimes cheetahs that are just passing through are immediately labeled as "problem animals".

The Cheetah Conservation Fund's has come up with the solution of using guarding dogs to protect farm animals.

A livestock guarding dog lives with the herd, eats and sleeps with the livestock and travels with them. The dog is always on alert, and defends its herd against a variety of threats – against baboons, jackals, caracals, cheetahs, leopards and even humans. The dog’s job is to bark and posture to scare the predator away. Cheetahs are not normally aggressive, so are quick to retreat from a barking dog.

You can sponsor a dog to save the cheetah. The Cheetah Conservation Fund breeds, cares for and places about 30 puppies a year. Each dog costs CCF around $500 a year in care. These costs include food, vaccinations, new-owner support, veterinary care and long-term monitoring. You can sponsor a dog, either yourself or by as a group of people, by raising $500 a year for CCF.

Cheetah Conservation Fund:


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