Printer Friendly

The race for survival: can cheetahs beat extinction with the help of guard dogs?

DID YOU KNOW?

* The word "cheetah" means "spotted one" in the Hindi language. The cat's spotted coat helps it blend in with the tall grasses of the African plains. This camouflage helps the cheetah hide from predators.

* Many large cats use their excellent sense of smell to track down their prey. Cheetahs, however, rely on their keen eyesight. They (tan spot their next meal as far away as 5 kilometers (3 miles).

* When a cheetah runs and leaps in the air, it uses its long tail to help steer its body in the desired direction. The tail also helps the airborne cat keep its balance.

CRITICAL THINKING:

* Human activities such as farming and logging can affect all animal's habitat. What are some other factors that could affect an animal's habitat?

CROSS-CURRICULAR CONNECTIONS:

LANGUAGE ARTS: Have your students research an endangered or threatened animal. Then, haw' them write a news article about why an animal may become extinct, and what scientists and communities are doing to help save the species.

RESOURCES

* To learn more about cheetahs, visit the companion Web site to the PBS program Cheetahs in a Hot Spot:

www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/cheetahs

* Find out how zoos are protecting cheetahs at:

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ConservationAndScience/ EndangeredSpecies/Cheetah/

A cheetah digs its spikelike claws into a grassy plain in Africa. Then, spotted cat kicks off and darts into the distance. This sleek feline can accelerate from 0 to 113 kilometers (70 miles) per hour in mere seconds, making it the world's fastest land mammal. That's a vital skill for nabbing a tasty antelope or rabbit for dinner. But this swift carnivore isn't just stalking its next meaty meal: It and other cheetahs are running for their lives.

According to scientists, cheetahs, or Acinonyx jubatus (ak-sin-ON-iks joo-BAH-tus), are on the fast track to extinction. The species is in danger of dying out as tougher animals, such as lions and hyenas, force cheetahs off protected land on African wildlife reserves. These animals steal the spotted cats' fresh kills for an easy meal, says Laurie Marker, a zoologist and the founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Forced to leave the reserves and pad onto unprotected lands, cheetahs are often killed by farmers who are trying to defend their livestock.

In the early 1900s, roughly 100,000 cheetahs roamed expanses of Asia and Africa. Now, only 12,000 of the cats remain. About a quarter of these endangered cats live in Namibia, a country in southwest Africa that Marker also calls home. "When I first got here [in 1977], farmers were killing cheetahs like flies," she says. "We had to do something."

SCAREDY CATS

Marker and others devised a plan to keep the cats from livestock, and angry farmers. Since most cats turn tail if confronted with a dog, Marker wondered if cheetahs would avoid farms that were guarded by barking pooches.

In 1994, Marker began testing the idea by giving Nanlibian farmers Anatolian shepherds. This breed of guard dog has a long history in Europe of protecting flocks of sheep and herds of goats from predators, such as bears and wolves.

Marker soon found that these shepherds have a knack for keeping cheetahs at bay too. Once placed on farms for guard duty, the dogs began doing what their ancestors have done naturally for 6,000 years, she says.

The dogs patrol the farms at night, keeping a lookout for danger. If they spot an intruder, the Anatolian shepherds sound menacing barks and growls. Usually, that frightens away wary cheetahs. But if a bold cat decides to stick around, the dogs fight ferociously to defend the livestock.

"Cheetahs want an easy kill because if they get hurt, they might never hunt again," says Marker. So most cheetahs avoid the dogfight.

RUNNING ON EMPTY

Over the last 10 years, Marker and her co-workers have checked to see how well the guard dogs are doing. They've found that livestock defended by Anatolian shepherds rarely get attacked. With their flocks safe, farmers are killing far fewer cheetahs.

Even so, Marker says that cheetahs may still become extinct. Poverty forces some people in African countries to poach, or illegally hunt, the same wildlife that cheetahs prey on to feed themselves. This leaves little food for cheetahs that have been chased from livestock. Plus, cheetahs need a lot of land. So people must better protect suitable habitat.

Only by tackling poverty will poaching be reduced, says Marker. Then, if land is protected, cheetahs will be able to hunt freely for wildlife.

CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDING

DIRECTIONS: Answer the following questions in complete sentences.

1. Why are cheetahs on the fast track to extinction?

2. Compare the range and number of cheetahs in the 1900s with the range and number of today.

3. How did Marker come up with the idea of using Anatolian shepherds as a method for keeping cheetahs away from livestock, and angry farmers?

4. Despite the success of the Anatolian shepherd program, why does Marker believe that cheetahs may still become extinct?

ANSWERS

1. Cheetahs are on the fast track to extinction because tougher animals, such as lions and hyenas force cheetahs off protected land on African wildlife reserves These animals steal the spotted cats' fresh kills for an easy meal. Forced to leave the reserves and pad onto unprotected lands, cheetahs are often killed by farmers who are trying to defend their livestock.

2. In the early 1900s, roughly 100000 cheetahs roamed expanses of Asia and Africa Today, only 12,000 of the cats remain About a quarter of these endangered cats live in Namibia, a country in southwest Africa.

3. Since most cats turn away if confronted by a dog, Marker wondered if cheetahs would avoid farms that were guarded by barking dogs She selected the Anatolian shepherd because this breed of guard dog has a long history in Europe of protecting flocks of sheep and herds of goats from predators, such as bears and wolves.

4. Cheetahs may still become extinct because poverty forces some people in African countries to poach the same wildlife that cheetahs prey on. This leaves little food for cheetahs that have been chased from livestock. Also, cheetahs need a lot of land. So people must better protect suitable habitat. Only by tackling poverty will poaching be reduced. Then, if land is protected, cheetahs will be able to hunt freely for wildlife.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Scholastic, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:LIFE: ENDANGERED SPECIES
Author:Brownlee, Christy
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 28, 2005
Words:1068
Previous Article:Hands-on science (no lab required).
Next Article:Burp, rumble, toot! How your lunch can turn you into a one-person band.
Topics:


Related Articles
Two bottlenecks for cheetahs?
Cheetah countdown: does inbreeding - or zoo life - hinder this feline's fecundity?
Back from the brink.
Saving cheetahs: adults come first.
Mammals in global decline.
The Last of Their Kind.
WINDING DOWN.
ZOO PUTS SEX BACK IN WILDLIFE\Center works as Noah's ark for animals facing extinction.
Preserve species act.
Elephant adventures: South Africa's private eco-reserve.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters