The distribution and numbers of cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) in southern Africa.


Assessing the numbers and distribution of threatened species is a central challenge in conservation, often made difficult because the species of concern are rare and elusive. For some predators, this may be compounded by their being sparsely distributed over large areas. Such is the case with the cheetah Acinonyx jubatus. The IUCN Red List process solicits comments, is democratic, transparent, widely-used, and has recently assessed the species. Here, we present additional methods to that process and provide quantitative approaches that may afford greater detail and a benchmark against which to compare future assessments. The cheetah poses challenges, but also affords unique opportunities. It is photogenic, allowing the compilation of thousands of crowd-sourced data. It is also persecuted for killing livestock, enabling estimation of local population densities from the numbers persecuted. Documented instances of persecution in areas with known human and livestock density mean that these data can provide an estimate of where the species may or may not occur in areas without observational data. Compilations of extensive telemetry data coupled with nearly 20,000 additional observations from 39 sources show that free-ranging cheetahs were present across approximately 789,700 km2 of Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe (56%, 22%, 12% and 10% respectively) from 2010 to 2016, with an estimated adult population of 3,577 animals. We identified a further 742,800 km2 of potential cheetah habitat within the study region with low human and livestock densities, where another ∼3,250 cheetahs may occur. Unlike many previous estimates, we make the data available and provide explicit information on exactly where cheetahs occur, or are unlikely to occur. We stress the value of gathering data from public sources though these data were mostly from well-visited protected areas. There is a contiguous, transboundary population of cheetah in southern Africa, known to be the largest in the world. We suggest that this population is more threatened than believed due to the concentration of about 55% of free-ranging individuals in two ecoregions. This area overlaps with commercial farmland with high persecution risk; adult cheetahs were removed at the rate of 0.3 individuals per 100 km2 per year. Our population estimate for confirmed cheetah presence areas is 11% lower than the IUCN's current assessment for the same region, lending additional support to the recent call for the up-listing of this species from vulnerable to endangered status.





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Publication Info

Weise, Florian J, Varsha Vijay, Andrew P Jacobson, Rebecca F Schoonover, Rosemary J Groom, Jane Horgan, Derek Keeping, Rebecca Klein, et al. (2017). The distribution and numbers of cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) in southern Africa. PeerJ, 5(12). p. e4096. 10.7717/peerj.4096 Retrieved from

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Stuart L. Pimm

Doris Duke Distinguished Professor of Conservation Ecology in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences

Stuart Pimm is a world leader in the study of present-day extinctions and what can be done to prevent them. His research covers the reasons why species become extinct, how fast they do so, the global patterns of habitat loss and species extinction and, importantly, the management consequences of this research. Pimm received his BSc degree from Oxford University in 1971 and his Ph.D. from New Mexico State University in 1974. Pimm is the author of over 350 scientific papers and five books. He is one of the most highly cited environmental scientists. Pimm wrote the highly acclaimed assessment of the human impact to the planet: The World According to Pimm: a Scientist Audits the Earth in 2001. His commitment to the interface between science and policy has led to his testimony to both House and Senate Committees on the re-authorization of the Endangered Species Act. He was worked and taught in Africa for nearly 30 years on elephants, most recently lions — through National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative — but always on topics that relate to the conservation of wildlife and the ecosystems on which they depend. Other research areas include the Everglades of Florida and tropical forests in South America, especially the Atlantic Coast forest of Brazil and the northern Andes — two of the world's "hotspots" for threatened species. His international honours include the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010), the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006), the Society for Conservation Biology’s Edward T. LaRoe III Memorial Award (2006), and the Marsh Award for Conservation Biology, from the Marsh Christian Trust (awarded by the Zoological Society of London in 2004). Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, awarded him the William Proctor Prize for Scientific Achievement in 2007. In 2019, he won the International Cosmos Prize, which recognised his founding and directing Saving Nature,, a non-profit that uses donations for carbon emissions offsets to fund local conservation groups in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity to restore their degraded lands. 

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