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Monday, December 8, 2008

Cheetah joins the endangered list

Catch me if you can ... cheetah in action

Catch me if you can ... cheetah in action

Threatened ... cheetah in its natural habitat

Threatened ... cheetah in its natural habitat

Majestic ... cheetah at sunset

Majestic ... cheetah at sunset

THE world’s fastest animal looks to be falling behind in the race for survival as cheetahs were this week placed on the endangered species list. Here, one of the presenters of BBC1’s Big Cat Live reveals why we must act to save these stunning creatures, which she has observed close up in Africa.

Vulnerable ... cheetah cubs

Vulnerable ... cheetah cubs

BBC/ Angela Scott

ONLY when you see a cheetah in the flesh do you get that real sense of beauty and power.

They are phenomenal creatures. Their burst of speed, grace and agility is electrifying to watch.

Fearless ... mother with her cubs

Fearless ... mother with her cubs

Getty Images

I have been lucky enough to see them in their own environment on my many trips to Africa.

I have witnessed their beauty — but also their daily struggle to survive.

That’s why I’m sad to say it comes as no surprise to hear they have been put on the endangered list.

Empathetic ... Kate Silverton

Empathetic ... Kate Silverton

Their numbers have fallen 90 per cent in the past 100 years and things are getting worse.

In Kenya’s Masai Mara reserve alone, numbers are estimated to have fallen from 60 in 2000 to 45 in 2007.

I became very close to a mother cheetah called Shakira during the last series of Big Cat Live.

She had previously lost litters of cubs but this time she was bravely fighting off predators to keep her young alive.

Cheetah cubs have a really high mortality rate — around 90 per cent — so I was willing on every one of them.

Shakira showed amazing courage, facing down a fully grown male and two lionesses to protect them.

Preyed upon ... cheetah cub

Preyed upon ... cheetah cub

Nathan Edwards/Newspix/ Rex Features

But sadly, when we returned one day to see how they were doing, two were missing. They had probably been snatched by hyenas.

It was very distressing for Shakira, who was sat on top of a termite mound pitifully calling for her cubs.

You can’t help but be moved by a moment like that.

It was a dramatic storyline for the programme. Shakira was risking her life, taking on predators to save her cubs, and you connected with her as a mother.

Hearing that cheetahs have been placed on the endangered list makes me think, “Why can’t we put ourselves out on a limb to save her like she did for her cubs?”

Protective ... cheetah and her cubs

Protective ... cheetah and cubs

After all, people need to remember that once something is extinct, that’s it — it is gone forever.

As soon as we hear that word, it should be galvanising us to think, ‘Hang on a moment, there’s no turning back from that point.’

It should be the moment we take action.

I recently read an article from 1998 warning that cheetahs were facing extinction. So why are we not doing more about it?

One of the major reasons they are struggling is because they are genetically inbred due to their limited gene pool.

That makes them less adaptable and more vulnerable to ecological and environmental changes.

They are also at greater susceptibility to disease.

But we, as humans, are also to blame because we are competing with them for land and natural resources, gradually taking over their natural habitat.

And what right have we got to be contributing to this animal’s demise? It is shocking.

Cheetahs are seen as pests by many farmers because they are a threat to livestock.

But that is only because their home has gone and they have nowhere to roam but on farmland.

Yet there is hope. I saw how conservation projects in Namibia are teaching farmers how to protect their land without using bullets.

We have to find compromises like this and change our ways or risk losing this amazing animal forever.

Find out how Shakira’s cubs got on when Kate and the team return in a Christmas Eve special on BBC1, Big Cat Live: What Happened Next.


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