Cheetahs are racing towards extinction a lot faster than previously thought, according to the BBC. Because the magnificent cats are far-ranging, often straying outside protected areas, they face dramatic habitat loss and there are only around 7,100 left in the wild. Researchers are now arguing cheetahs should no longer be classified as vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, but as endangered.

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Around the world, diminishing cheetah populations are raising alarm among researchers. Cheetah populations plummeted from 1,200 to only 170 during 16 years in Zimbabwe. In Iran, it’s thought a group of less than 50 cheetahs survives. Asian cheetahs are nearly gone, according to the BBC.

Related: Illegal Wild Cheetah Trade for Luxury Pets is Pushing Species to Extinction, CITES Report

Sarah Durant of the Zoological Society of London, lead author on a study cited by BBC published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the cheetah’s dilemma, said, “Given the secretive nature of this elusive cat, it has been difficult to gather hard information on the species, leading to its plight being overlooked. Our findings show that the large space requirements for the cheetah, coupled with the complex range of threats faced by the species in the wild, mean that it is likely to be much more vulnerable to extinction than was previously thought.”

As 77 percent of the cheetah’s habitat is outside protected reserves and parks, they’ve suffered from habitat loss and prey loss. They clash with humans who are developing the land on which the animals used to live. Illegal cheetah cub trafficking isn’t helping either. The Cheetah Conservation Fund says 1,200 cheetah cubs have been trafficked during the last 10 years from Africa, but a heartbreaking 85 percent perished during the voyage.

The study authors called for the IUCN to categorize the cheetah as endangered, instead of vulnerable, and for a “paradigm shift in conservation”. They argued for “incentive-based approaches” to encourage local people to protect cheetahs beyond setting aside protected areas.

Another study author, Kim Young-Overton of Panthera, said, “The take-away from this pinnacle study is that securing protected areas alone is not enough.”

Via the BBC

Images via Wikimedia Commons and Tambako the Jaguar on Flickr