LONDON, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Cheetahs are on the decline and running out of habitat. Researchers suggest the species be up-listed from "vulnerable" to "endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Scientists with the Zoological Society of London, Panthera and Wildlife Conservation Society published a report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences detailing the cheetah's rapid decline.
There are now just 7,100 cheetahs in the wild. The species is now absent from 91 percent of its historic range. In an isolated pocket of Iran, only 50 Asiatic cheetahs, a subspecies, remain.
"This study represents the most comprehensive analysis of cheetah status to date," lead author Sarah Durant, a researcher with ZSL, said in a news release. "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."
Though conservationists and government officials in Africa have had success curbing the flow of live cheetahs into the illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss continues to drive down population numbers.
"Our findings show that the large space requirements for 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," Durant said.
Scientists hope the new report and the cheetah's proposed inclusion on the IUCN Red List will inspire transnational and holistic conservation efforts.
"We've just hit the reset button in our understanding of how close cheetahs are to extinction," said Kim Young-Overton, the cheetah program director for Panthera. "The take-away from this pinnacle study is that securing protected areas alone is not enough. We must think bigger, conserving across the mosaic of protected and unprotected landscapes that these far-ranging cats inhabit, if we are to avert the otherwise certain loss of the cheetah forever."