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Big Cats -The Cheetah

Him and Her - Cheetahs 

-Image courtesy of Aisha - Top 6 Conservation Tours, Cape Town


Poor Cheetahs. They don’t even have their own special day yet they are among the most threatened of the big cats. Like Lions, they were once widespread throughout the world, including Europe and America, but there are now only approximately 8000 left and they are only found in small pockets in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. They have undergone a 90% decline since the 1900’s and they have already become extinct in 18 countries.There are several reasons for this.


Why Cheetahs are more vulnerable than other big cats


While Cheetahs are the fastest animal on earth and are well equipped for speed and stealth, they also have their weaknesses. Unlike Lions, Cheetah females raise their young alone and must leave the den to hunt. This means that their cubs often fall prey to other predators with only about 10% surviving more than three months. Cheetahs are also ill -equipped for fighting and when competition for food is tight, they often lose to more aggressive species. Because their populations are small and scattered, they are also prone to inbreeding which results in genetic weaknesses which make them less resistant to disease. In the wild they usually only live 4-6 years, though they many live up to 10 years in sanctuaries and the like. Read more here or here.

Human and Cheetah conflict

Needing large areas of open ground to run down their prey, their ranges are increasingly constrained by climate change, population expansion and the establishment of large ranches. This leads to conflict with land owners which the Cheetah usually loses too. It’s been estimated that in 1980 alone, ranchers killed 6,829 Cheetahs. 

Fortunately the demand for Cheetah pelts as a fashion item, popular until the 1960s is now regarded with distaste. Until then, some 1,500 Cheetah pelts a year were sent to the United States. Nevertheless, they remain prone to the other ills which befall large cats – hunting and poaching for their beautiful pelts and claws.

The problem is dire and ICUN has listed African Cheetahs as Vulnerable and the Iranian Cheetah of which there are only 50 left, as Critically Endangered. Fortunately the Cincinnati Zoo has teamed with the Cheetah Conservation Foundation to set aside 28,000 acres in Namibia for their protection. It also encourages better livestock management and seeks to educate villagers, ranchers and school children on how to live with and manage them. 

The ugly truth about Captive Cats

I haven’t seen any figures for other countries, but I was really shocked to learn that some 10,000 big cats are being held in captivity in the USA. The UK apparently still allows this too. We aren’t talking about zoos here, where they may help to sustain a more diverse gene pool, or rescue centres which take in injured cats which can't survive in the wild. We mean big cats held on private property.

Few places are large enough to allow this to occur, and depending on the reasons for holding them- for example to breed and sell them, or dismember them for pelts and parts, they are often kept in very small cages, where they can barely move or on concrete floors which are very bad for their paws, even in places where it's legally allowed. In Australia we don’t even allow that for poultry any more! 

Big cats also need a great deal of food -approximately 6-8 kg of steak a day for a Cheetah, and thus often end up malnourished or without adequate veterinary care. It's not only inhumane. It also encourages scourges like canned hunting (see previous post), a thriving black market in animals, poachers, criminal gangs and even funds for terrorist activities and it also represents a risk to the public.

As at 2013 around 29 US states had banned private possession and others have various restrictions such as requiring registration, licences, microchipping, DNA sampling and birth and death records for exotic animals kept in captivity. It is also illegal to transfer Cheetahs or Cougars across state lines. In 2011 the American Zoological Association banned the breeding of King Cheetahs, White Tigers and White Lions because the inbreeding which this entails results in genetic defects. Read more here.



If you live in America, support the Humane Society in banning these practices altogether. The Public Safety Act calls for an end to Private Possession and exploitation of wild animals.You can also do it through the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance. Read More here. Since the United States appears to be such a large and lucrative market, it would be a great step forward if it could take the lead on banning such practices and all aspects of the wild animal trade including the fur trade.

Refuse any offers of animal parts, clothing or skins and report any signs of such activity to the relevant authorities, especially if you encounter offers online. Without a market, more animals would be left in the wild. More law enforcement is obviously needed too as there are presently very few inspectors who must manage all aspects of animal welfare from poultry farms to abattoirs, not just pet shops and wildlife trafficking. In 2011 just 105 inspectors were responsible for over 7,000 facilities.  To make a complaint about abuse or illegal ownership in the USA, see links on this page.

Outside the USA contact the Humane Society International or members of the Big Cat Coalition (see below). Several countries have already enacted bans and restrictions on the import of wild animals. Russia for example, has had a ban on private ownership of tigers, crocodiles and monkeys since 2010 and the province of British Columbia in Canada has had an import ban on 1256 exotic animals since 2009.  Bahrain which has long had a ban on private possession, stepped up its security to stop imports in the same year. Read more here

Fortunately many people, especially young people now agree that pelts look better on the animals themselves. They are also shunning circuses with animal acts and the the kinds of zoos which involve caged animals. Thanks to television and the internet we now have a range of other entertainment which doesn't involve exploiting other creatures and thanks to people like David Attenborough, we increasingly appreciate seeing animals in their natural state, rather than in captivity or doing tricks. 


Live Animal Acts  - Circuses


Many wild animals are still kept by circuses and travelling exhibitions of various kinds. However many countries have already banned or restricted these activities. Brazil and Bolivia did so in 2009. By 2011 China, the UK, Sweden, Costa Rica, Austria, Sweden, India, Greece, Finland and Singapore had done so and other countries such as Bogota, Columbia, Paraguay and the UAE followed in 2012. Slovenia did so in 2013. Since then the trickle has turned into a flood with many more countries and states enacting similar legislation. See the full list here.  Zoos and fur farming - already banned in 14 EU countries are next on the list. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram came to the party in 2018 by banning sales of live animals, pelts or parts on their sites and refusing to show images of people with wild animal "selfies."

 And about those encounters with cubs and  "selfies with animals...


Big cat cubs may look cute and cuddly while they are small, but their instincts are still those of wild animals. If taken from their mothers when young they won't be able to survive in the wild, but it will mean that as they get older they will scratch and bite and become a liability. At this point they are often killed for parts, abandoned or fall into the illegal wildlife trade or are ruthlessly bred while still much too young. Read more here.

 China banned Tiger cub petting as early as 2012  and Russia has banned trade, killing and handling of wild animals including petting zoos and the like since 2018. It also prosecutes those organising animal fights.

 Tour booking companies such as Tripadvisor (2016) and Expedia (2017) have vowed to drop such 'attractions' from their sites.


If you were wondering why zoos should be phased out unless directly needed to conserve endangered species, read the excellent article by David Aspinall in The Independent. The short answer is that they do not contribute much to conservation, much less than conservation in situ and are often stressful for the animals.

Much of this information comes from Big Cat Rescue which looks after animals which have been injured or confiscated but lack the skills to survive in the wild. 



The Big Cat Alliance consists of a number of  US wildlife sanctuaries committed to non -exploitation. See their pages for other ways to help. 

The Big Cat Coalition is an umbrella organisation for several large US animal welfare groups including the following:

 Humane Society of the USA

Born Free USA,

Animal Welfare Institute

The International Fund for Wildlife (IFAW) 

The Ian Somerhalder Foundation

Big Cat Rescue

It has been very successful in raising awareness and lobbying for change. All would welcome your support, financial or otherwise. The Humane Society of the USA has an excellent toolkit for ending wild animal acts in your community, which could be used outside the USA as well.

Outside the USA please refer to the Humane Society International's pages for what's happening in your region.

STOPPRESS: As of May 2021, the South African government has banned  its controversial captive lion industry. According to environment minister Barbara Creecy this was done partly because of “the risk that trade in lion parts poses to stimulating poaching and illegal trade," but also because it damaged South Africa's ecotourism image. (reported in Big Cat Rescue)