Cheetahs are an iconic animal of the African savannah, but scientists warn that this majestic cat and other large carnivores are on the verge of extinction and humans are to blame.
Along with the spotted mammals are wild dogs and hyenas which may soon disappear due to habitat loss, human persecution and prey reduction.
Oxford University researchers have found that the animals’ plight has been overlooked due to attention paid to lions, leopards and other large predators, and regions such as South Africa, Kenya and north-west and central Africa are underrepresented.
Specifically, 26 countries currently do not have published estimates, notably Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Chad.
Identifying gaps in knowledge will improve conservation efforts by directing funding, investment and priorities, according to the scientists.
Cheetahs living in the African savanna are on the verge of extinction, but lack of focus on the region has left dwindling numbers unnoticed
The lead author, Dr. Paolo Strampelli, from the University of Oxford, said: ‘The research effort is significantly biased towards lions and against striped hyenas, despite the latter being the species with the largest continental range.
‘African wild dogs have also shown a negative bias in research attention, although this is partly explained by its relatively narrow distribution.’
The ecosystem of the African savannah is a tropical grassland with year-round warm temperatures and seasonal rainfall.
Savannah is characterized by small or scattered grasses and trees and is the largest biome in South Africa, covering 46% of the region.
Savannah (dark, tan color) is characterized by grasses and small or scattered trees and is the largest biome in South Africa, covering 46% of the region
Covers Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania , Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa.
Scientists estimate that there are fewer than 8,000 African cheetahs in all of Africa.
Due to the lack of control over the savannah, scientists cannot determine how many live in the region, but it is probably less than half.
Data from 2016 showed that the population was around 2,000 and 90% live in protected areas.
“Our findings highlight the urgent need for further assessments of cheetah populations, particularly in North, West and Central Africa,” Strampelli said.
“Because of their wide ranges of countries, studies in Chad and Ethiopia should be given a particular priority.”
Hyenas thrive across Africa, numbering more than 100,000 individuals, but that number dwindles dramatically in the savannah.
However, wild dogs suffer the most: about 70 adults are left in the wild.
The PeerJ journal study 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 occur where it is most needed.
Computer models showed that ratings were biased towards South Africa and Kenya. North, West and Central Africa is underrepresented.
Hyenas thrive across Africa, with more than 100,000 individuals, but that number dwindles dramatically in the savanna
However, wild dogs suffer the most: about 70 adults are left in the wild
Most of the studies were conducted in government-run tourist areas; unprotected and trophy hunting regions received less attention.
Reducing bias would help ensure that all species and areas of conservation importance have an adequate knowledge base available, potentially improving their prospects, according to the scientists.
Strampelli and colleagues called on foreign donors and researchers to maximize the involvement of local scientists, students and professionals in future evaluations.
These include the provision of training, funding and equipment. Donors and funders should encourage efforts in understudied regions and species.
This will ensure that retention occurs where it is needed most. Striped hyena population assessments are required.
Further assessments of the African wild dog population are essential, particularly as the species is endangered.
Such efforts are especially needed in countries identified as critical to the species.
In some countries, including Botswana and Tanzania, no recent assessments have been carried out.
“There is an urgent need for further assessments of the cheetah population, particularly in North, West and Central Africa,” Strampelli said.
‘Because of their wide ranges of countries, studies in Chad and Ethiopia should be given a particular priority.
“As with the African wild dog, the development and standardization of cheetah population monitoring techniques is recommended, including the exploration of citizen science-based approaches.”