Scientists theorize that around 12,000 years ago a significant climate change caused a rapid decline in cheetah population, with only a small group of cheetah surviving. Inbreeding likely occurred as the population grew. Today's cheetahs lack genetic variation which make them less able to adapt to changes in environment such as infectious disease or climate change. It was estimated that there were 100,000 cheetahs in 1900 and today only around 12,500 exist.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service list the cheetah as endangered. They are nearly extinct in Asia and the Middle East. In order to help increase the population, breeding programs have been developed. These programs work with local African communities to reduce conflicts with people. There is a cheetah conservation fund based in Namibia, which currently holds the largest cheetah population mainly due to lack of lions and hyenas in the area. Scientists primarily study cheetahs in the wild by using radio tracking with a collar.
Cheetahs generally do not breed readily in captivity. In unnatural zoo habitats others often ignore or kill their cubs. It is important that mothers raise their own cubs. Cubs will acquire natural immunities to disease through their mother's milk. Cubs also need to socialize with other cheetahs while young in order for them to breed successfully in the future. Other problems that lead to lack of breeding success in captivity is their constant movement between zoos for breeding purposes. Cheetahs have low levels of exercise in zoos which decreases their overall fitness. These factors may lead to prolonged stress, which can cause infertility and disease. The San Diego Wild Animal Park has set up breeding programs to help combat this.
Zoo scientists are also looking at different ways to enhance cheetah breeding. They will use sperm from wild cheetah to fertilize eggs in a laboratory which are from a captive female. The embryo is then inserted into the mother's uterus and she will undergo normal pregnancy. This method will help eliminate the need to remove cheetahs from the wild to support captive breeding programs.
These magnificent creatures are currently dwindling. It is important that people recognize their status and appreciate their uniqueness.
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