The cheetah is endangered today largely because human beings have taken over much of the cat's habitat and killed off the small antelope the cheetah hunts for food. People have also killed many cheetahs directly. By the early 1970's, the fur trade had become a major threat to large cats such as tigers and cheetahs. At the time, the United States alone was importing 25,000 large-cat skins each year for fur coats, rugs, and other fashion items. Passage of the United States Endangered Species Act in 1973 and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international treaty administered by the United Nations, in 1975 gave the cats protected status and reduced the trade in cheetah fur. Nevertheless, cheetahs are still routinely shot by African farmers and ranchers who view the cats as a threat to livestock, just as American ranchers view wolves and mountain lions.
Africa's animal parks and game reserves protect many animals from human beings. However, cheetahs are poorly suited to life in these reserves. Within the borders of a typical game reserve, herd animals such as zebras, wildebeest, and antelope are protected from human hunters and so thrive in numbers not normally seen on the open savanna (grassland with scattered trees). As a result, populations of the large or powerful predators that feed on herd animals—predators such as lions, hyenas, and leopards—also are high. But middle-sized predators such as cheetahs and wild dogs suffer when they are forced to compete in this crowded and confined landscape, according to Timothy M. Caro of the University of California at Davis, who has studied wild cheetahs in Tanzania's Serengeti Plain since 1980.
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