JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The majestic cheetah survived mass extinction 10,000 years ago. But the athletic big cat, famous for being the world's fastest sprinter, may now face it again.
Experts have warned that the cheetah, which is already on the endangered species list, is losing its natural habitat fast and does not adapt well to living in wildlife reserves. It's possible it could disappear by 2030, they said.
"Cheetahs don't do well in protected wildlife reserves due to increased competition from other larger predators, such as lions and hyenas, which thrive in protected areas," Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia told Agence France-Presse.
"Most protected areas are unable to maintain viable cheetah populations," she added.
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NGO Panthera said that cheetahs have disappeared from 77 percent of their original African habitat. The wildlife organization claimed that if no special measures are taken, cheetahs may disappear by 2030.
Marker, of the fund in Namibia, said human development is the major threat against the cats. "The main limitation to the survival of the species in the wild is reduction and fragmentation of habitat as well as human wildlife conflict."
The cheetah population — originally spread throughout Africa, the Middle East and several Asian countries — was at around 100,000 in the early 20th century, but now sits at just 10,000.
In southern Africa, most cheetahs live outside of protected reserves where they sometimes prey on livestock at farms, and as a result face being shot or poisoned by angry farmers. Outside the African wild, a small population of the big cats living in Iran is critically endangered.
One effort to protect cheetahs involves placing Anatolian shepherd dogs on farms. The dogs, a Turkish breed renowned for their ability to guard livestock, help farmers by protecting their herds from predators. As result, the cheetahs are no longer targets.
Erin Conway-Smith contributed to this report from Johannesburg.