‘Endangered’ is a word we hear far too often when talking about animals, and unfortunately too often the human footprint is to blame. The planet is currently facing its sixth mass extinction, and while others have been caused by asteroids, volcanoes and a naturally shifting climate, this time it is 99% due to us. Animals are losing their habitat for our profit, we are polluting their home on land and in oceans, and their livelihoods are being threatened by climate change.

On Endangered Species Day, we want to talk about the most endangered cat in Africa – cheetahs. The world’s fastest land animal is sprinting towards extinction, with only 7000 believed to be left in the wild. 14,000 cheetah were counted in 1975, that’s a 50% decline in the last 43 years. If things continue the way they are going, it is predicted they will decline an extra 53% in the next 15 years, which is a frightening thought.

Cheetah have been driven out of 95% of their historic homelands. Cheetah used to be widely spread through most of Africa and in some parts of Asia, but are now confined to six African counties, and are nearly extinct from Asia, with only around 50 inhabiting an isolated pocket of Iran.

Cheetah are not only under threat due to habitat loss, they are also under direct threat from humans. They are hunted for their skins, cubs are caught up in illegal trafficking, and they are often shot due to the threat they pose to livestock and farmlands.

Here at Auckland Zoo we are lucky enough to have Qia and Quartz, two cheetah girls that have recently joined us from South Africa as ambassadors for their wild counterparts, to grow support and encourage fundraising for the big cat, and also expand its gene pool.

The girls have been training superstars, and have been patrolling the zoo most mornings. Taking them for walks around the zoo is an important part of their enrichment, as in the wild they would naturally be patrolling their environment. Cheetahs can be quite anxious animals, so building their confidence happens slowly. When their walking training began, they only ventured out the gate and back, but with the help of their trusted keepers they are gradually expanding their walks to new areas of the zoo.

Auckland Zoo supports Cheetah Outreach, an organisation committed to cheetah conservation. Most cheetah in South Africa live near farmland, so the survival of the species relies on finding non-lethal ways to protect livestock to reduce human – cheetah conflict. Auckland Zoo’s Conservation Fund contributes to Cheetah Outreach’s Anatolian Shepherd training programme, where suitable farmers are given a dog that bonds with and protects their livestock, with the programme covering the costs for the first year.

If you are feeling inspired to save an endangered species, why not donate to Auckland Zoo’s Conservation Fund, which directly supports this programme and many others like it? Visiting Qia and Quartz at the zoo will also help, as Auckland Zoo is a not-for-profit, so all of the money from every ticket goes towards building a brighter future for wildlife, and wild places.