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Where to see cheetahs

The cheetah once roamed throughout Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Asia Minor, and even East of India; their fossils have been found from China, to northern India to southern Europe. Today their range is drastically decreased and while they cheetahs can be found across most of Africa, the largest remaining populations are in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenyan and Tanzania. Namibia is home to the largest wild cheetah population with approximately 2500 animals. There are is a healthy cheetah population in the Serengeti with Namiri Plains being one of the best places in Africa to see them. There are a few places where you can get up close and personal with cheetahs and get a glimpse of the conservation work being done to support this fascinating animal. We recommend two in Namibia: Okonjima – the home of AfriCat and the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Otjiwarongo where you can stay at Babson House.

Did you know?

  • Cheetahs claws don’t fully retract, they work like cleats to help them grip the ground while running.
  • Those non-retractable claws put cheetahs in a different category than other big cats. Cheetahs are part of the Felidae (Feline) family but are a different genus. While lions, leopards, jaguars and tigers are in the Panthera genus, cheetah’s genus is Acinonyx, which comes from the Greek word meaning “no-move-claw.”
  • Another difference between cheetahs and other felines is that the cheetah does not have a floating hyoid bone in its neck so it cannot roar. They are however, the largest purring cat.
  • There is very little genetic diversity among cheetahs. All cheetahs in the wild descended from about 10 that survived the ice age 10,000 years ago.
  • It is estimated that there are only 50 Asiatic cheetah remaining in the wild, surviving in small isolated groups scattered throughout eastern Iran.

Conservation

The global cheetah population has plummeted in the last 100 years. There were more than 100,000 in the early 1900s. Now there are only 7,500, a decline of more than 90%! They are extinct in 20 countries and occupy only a fraction of their historic range. Ninety percent of all cheetahs are found living outside of protected parks and reserves, which makes them vulnerable to human conflict. The majority of people who live alongside cheetahs are rural farmers who view cheetah as a nuisance and a threat. Some governments sanction herd protection programs that allowed for cheetahs on farmlands to be trapped or killed. These programs caused a rapid reduction in the number of wild cheetahs in the1970s and 1980s but thankfully the introduction of non-lethal predator control techniques has stemmed the tide (read more here from Laurie Marker, Founder of Cheetah Conservation Fund). The majority of the conservation efforts and research published on wild cheetahs comes from Namibia (including Cheetah Conservation Fund), Tanzania’s Serengeti and Botswana. There is also the Cheetah Conservation Project of Zimbabwe and the Mara Cheetah Project recently launched in Kenya

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Kim Green