WATCH |Why cheetahs are running the race of a lifetime

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The world’s fastest land animal may not be able to run away from extinction. Cheetahs can sprint up to 120 kilometres per hour while on the hunt. But humans have turned them into prey.

Their population is decreasing to the point of endangerment. Although conservationists suspect there are 6 000 left, it’s an unproven estimate. Roughly 3 500 free-roaming cheetahs have been recorded in southern Africa. These speedsters are now in a race against time.

With trademark tears and spots for camouflage, cheetahs are one of the most recognisable big cats. Their incredible speed is supported by their strong tails, which help stabilise them on quick turns.

Cheetahs can go from zero to top speed in three seconds, expelling huge amounts of energy and subsequently shortening the window for catching their prey. If successful, they have to be quick to eat – other predators such as hyenas and leopards will snap their lunch from right under them.

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Cheetahs occasionally go after goats or sheep, which has led to conflicts with farmers who kill them in retaliation. Guard dog projects have helped protect both livestock and cheetahs.

But habitat loss remains one of the big cat’s greatest threats. The cheetah’s environment has been reduced to a fraction of their natural range, increasing the risk of contact with humans. Cheetahs are also in high demand for the illegal pet trade. This combination of factors is fatal.

Conservationists are working to preserve their population, while sanctuaries provide a safe space for vulnerable animals.

Orphaned cheetahs such as Pema and Jampa, habituated to humans and unable to return to the wild, have found shelter at Panthera Africa. It’s up to us to keep this momentum going. The clock is ticking.