Cheetahs are an iconic animal of the African savanna, but scientists are warning that this majestic cat and other large carnivores are on the brink of extinction – and humans are to blame.
Besides spotted mammals, there are wild dogs and hyenas that may soon become extinct due to habitat loss, human persecution, and reduced prey.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have found that the plight of animals has been overlooked due to the focus on lions, leopards and other large predators and that regions like South Africa, the Kenya and northern West and Central Africa are underrepresented.
Specifically, 26 countries currently lack published estimates – particularly Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Chad.
According to scientists, identifying knowledge gaps will improve conservation efforts by guiding funding, investments and priorities.
Cheetahs living in the African savannah are on the brink of extinction, but a lack of focus on the region has left dwindling numbers unnoticed
Lead author Dr Paolo Strampelli, University of Oxford, said: ‘Research effort is significantly biased in favor of lions and against striped hyenas, despite the latter being the species with the wider continental range.
“Wild dogs have also shown a negative bias in search attention, although this is partly explained by their relatively restricted distribution.”
The African savannah ecosystem is a tropical grassland with year-round warm temperatures and seasonal rainfall.
The savannah is characterized by small or scattered grasses and trees and is the largest biome in South Africa – covering 46 percent of the area.
Savannah (dark and tan in color) is characterized by small or scattered grasses and trees and is the largest biome in South Africa – covering 46% of the area
It covers Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa.
Scientists estimate that there are less than 8,000 African cheetahs in all of Africa.
Due to a lack of scrutiny of the savannah, scientists cannot determine how many live in the area, but it’s likely less than half.
Data from 2016 showed the population to be around 2,000 and 90% live in protected areas.
“Our results underscore the urgent need for additional cheetah population assessments, particularly in North, West and Central Africa,” Strampelli said.
“Due to their wide range of countries, studying in Chad and Ethiopia should be considered a priority.”
Hyenas flourish throughout Africa, with more than 100,000 individuals, but this number drops dramatically in the savannah.
However, feral dogs suffer the most – about 70 adults are left in the wild.
The study published 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 biodiversity monitoring may not be evenly distributed or happening where it is most needed.
Computer models showed that the ratings were biased in favor of South Africa and Kenya. North, West and Central Africa is under-represented.
Hyenas flourish throughout Africa, with more than 100,000 individuals, but this number drops dramatically in the savannah
However, feral dogs suffer the most – around 70 adults are left in the wild
Most of the studies have been conducted in tourist areas under government management; unprotected and trophy hunting areas have received less attention.
According to the scientists, reducing bias would help ensure that all species and areas important for conservation have an adequate knowledge base, potentially improving their outlook.
Strampelli and his colleagues called on foreign donors and researchers to maximize the involvement of local scientists, students and practitioners in future assessments.
These include the provision of training, funding and equipment. Donors and funders should encourage efforts in understudied regions and species.
This will ensure that conservation takes place where it is most needed. Striped hyena population assessments are needed.
Further assessments of the wild dog population are essential, especially since the species is endangered.
Such efforts are particularly needed in countries identified as critical for the species.
No recent assessments have been carried out in some countries, including Botswana and Tanzania.
“There is an urgent need for additional cheetah population assessments, particularly in North, West and Central Africa,” Strampelli said.
“Due to their wide range of countries, studying in Chad and Ethiopia should be considered a priority.
“As in the case of the wild dog, the development and standardization of techniques for monitoring cheetah populations, including the exploration of approaches based on citizen science, is recommended.”
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