Large carnivorous mammals of the African savannah are under threat of extinction as their populations have been largely ignored, due to a focus on big cats such as lions and leopards.
Cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas have all been badly hit due to habitat loss, human persecution, and reduced prey.
Researchers with the UK’s University of Oxford found that the animals’ plight has been overlooked in favour of those in tourist regions and protected wildlife areas, with population numbers still unavailable in 26 countries.
Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Chad are among those where the issue is most serious. Researchers say more information will improve conservation efforts by targeting funding and protection.
Dr Paolo Strampelli, who lead the study, said: ‘Research effort is significantly biased towards lions and against striped hyenas despite the latter being the species with the widest continental range.
‘African wild dogs also exhibited a negative bias in research attention, although this is partly explained by its relatively restricted distribution.’
The African savannah ecosystem is a tropical grassland with warm temperatures year-round and seasonal rainfall. It consists of grasses and individual trees and is the largest biome in south Africa – covering 46 per cent of the region.
The African savannah covers Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote D’ivore, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa.
Scientists estimate that fewer than 8,000 African cheetahs exist throughout all of the continent, but their locations are not properly known and each country’s population not calculated.
‘Our findings highlight the urgent need for additional cheetah population assessments, particularly in northern, western, and central Africa,’ Strampelli said.
‘Due to their large country ranges, studies in Chad and Ethiopia should especially be considered a priority.’
Hyenas flourish throughout Africa, with more than 100,000 individuals, but that number dwindles across the savannah. And wild dogs have suffered drastically, with an estimated 70 adults left in the wild.
The study in the journal PeerJ is the first of its kind – based on a systematic review of population assessments over the last two decades.
Strampelli and colleagues called for donors and foreign researchers to maximise the involvement of local scientists, students and practitioners in future assessments, along with provision of training, funding, and equipment.