Durban – In the last 100 years, 90% of the wild cheetah population has been lost – now there are only 7 100 left in the wild.
According to Zulu legend, the “tear marks” on a cheetah originate from a female cheetah who lost her cubs to a lazy hunter.
The hunter lay under the tree admiring the cheetah’s hunting prowess, which gave him the idea of stealing her cubs so they could hunt for him.
When the mother returned home to find her babies had gone, she cried so long and hard that permanent “tear marks” were formed.
The story has two endings: the chief of the village exiled the lazy hunter and the cubs were returned to their mother; or the sadder ending in that the cubs were gone.
Perhaps there is a lesson in the story because cubs being taken for pets is now one of the main threats to the survival of cheetahs in the wild.
This week, the coffee table book Remembering Cheetahs was launched, the fifth in a series of fundraising photography books Remembering Wildlife.
The series was created by British wildlife photographer and conservationist, Margot Raggett, and the book includes images of the cheetahs from some of the world’s top wildlife photographers.
Speaking to the Independent on Saturday from the UK this week, Raggett confirmed that all the profits from the sale of the book would go to the conservation of the species.
“Cheetahs are in more trouble than most people realise and are often shocked to realise that there are only 7 100 cheetahs left in the wild. It is going to take a lot to save them,” she said, adding that there were an estimated 1 300 cheetahs left in South Africa.
Highlighting that there had been an increase in “poaching animals across the board” during the Covid-19 pandemic, Raggett said: “Today one third of wild cheetahs live in southern Africa. There are three main threats to cheetahs: the illegal pet trade, with cheetah cubs being the most often poached; loss of habitat, and conflict with humans. Farmers retaliate to their farm animals being attacked and eaten by setting snares.”
Having worked on the production of the book under lockdown, Raggett said she hoped to still visit Africa this year, with the Maasai Mara in Kenya being her favourite destination.
“I love being in nature, I find it terribly therapeutic. I am hoping to get out to the bush before Christmas.”
The book was launched internationally on Monday with the aim of raising awareness around the world’s most endangered big cat, with a two-week virtual exhibition of photographs which will run until October 24.
The other books in the series are Remembering Elephants, Remembering Rhinos, Remembering Great Apes and Remembering Lions.
Raggett started the series to raise funds to protect each endangered species after seeing a poached elephant in Kenya and the books have been bought by the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Chris Martin, Russell Crowe and Pierce Brosnan.
Remembering Cheetahs includes images from award winning photographers, such as Marsel Van Oosten, Jonathan and Angela Scott, Frans Lanting, Greg du Toit and Charlie Hamilton James.
And the scientific reason for the cheetah’s “tear marks” is that these markings play an important role in protecting the animal from the sun’s glare while hunting, in what is often a high speed chase.
Raggett said the book was made possible through a Kickstarter campaign which was launched at the start of the pandemic and raised close to R2.8 million.
To access the exhibition, go to http://bit.ly/CheetahsExhibition
The Independent on Saturday