Captive Bred Cheetahs – An Epidemic in South Africa?

Since 1975, we have lost half of our cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) population worldwide with only an estimated 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild, confined to just 9% of its historical distributional range. Cheetahs are now predominantly found in Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, and Mozambique. For this reason, scientists are calling for a reclassification of the IUCN cheetah status from Vulnerable to Endangered.

Southern Africa is considered a regional stronghold for cheetah, with an estimated population of 4,500 adults, however its numbers are rapidly dwindling too. In South Africa, its status is classified as Vulnerable, mostly due to environmental pressures, such as habitat loss and fragmentation, and human-wildlife conflicts. The latter often leads to landowners illegally killing so-called “problem” animals.

Despite its Vulnerable status, South Africa has the third largest wild cheetah population worldwide with an estimated free roaming and managed metapopulation of between 1,200-1,700 animals. Around half of these free roaming cheetahs exist in our protected areas with Kruger National Park alone providing habitat for an estimated 400 cheetahs of all ages, according to a survey carried out in 2008-9.

The roughly other half of the free roaming cheetah population occurs on commercial farmland, mostly along the northern border of South Africa stretching from the Kruger National Park to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Cheetahs in Captivity

In 2010, the number of cheetahs in captivity by comparison was already more than 600 kept in 79 different facilities.

Captive breeding generally happens under the banner of conservation – to reintroduce captive bred cheetah back into the wild and for the preservation of genetic material.

However, the true value of captive breeding is still very much in dispute.

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