Habitat & Range
Cheetahs are tolerant of a wide range of habitats including shrublands, grasslands, savannahs, and temperate to hot deserts. Cheetahs largely stay on the ground but are known to climb trees on occasion.
As recently as 20,000 years ago, cheetahs had a near worldwide distribution and were one of the most widely distributed land animals on the planet. Cheetahs are now found widely but sparsely across Africa, although their populations have significantly disappeared from their historical ranges in the past. In Africa, for example, it's estimated that cheetahs are no longer found in 76% of their former historic range. Cheetahs likely only exist in 6% of their former range in eastern Africa but have most drastically declined in northern and western Africa.
Presently the Asiatic cheetah (A. j. venaticus) is considered restricted to Asia but today is believed to exist only in Iran. In the past, cheetahs in Asia were found from the shores of the Mediterranean and Arabian Peninsula, north to the shorelines of the Caspian and Aral Seas, and west through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan into central India.
Wild cheetah populations are in decline. A study done in the mid 1970s estimated their population to be around 15,000 — currently the known population is about 7,000, with an estimated total population of no more than 10,000 mature individuals. This represents a decline of at least 30% in 18 years (three generations). The estimated percentage of cheetahs contributing to the gene pool through breeding success may be less than half of the total population.
Southern Africa is home to at least 4,500 adult cheetahs. Unfortunately, a large group of this population lives outside protected habitats — away from lions and other potentially threatening carnivores — on ranchlands where they have the potential to encounter livestock and human farmers.
In Eastern Africa (Ethiopia, southern Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania) there is an estimated 2,572 adults and independent adolescents.
Reliable population estimates are difficult to find for the remainder of Africa. In northwest Africa the population of A. j. heckii is likely less than 250 mature individuals.
Across Asia, cheetahs are now only known to exist in Iran where the population of A. j. venaticus is estimated at only 60 to 100 individuals.