Cheetah can attain about 16 body lengths per second in comparison with mite which can cover 322 body lengths in one second
Cheetah(Image for representational purpose)REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

It's the fastest animal on land, with the ability to clock speeds of 120 kph (70 mph) in short bursts. Almost everyone has watched footage of its lean form hyper-extending as it hunts down a warthog or gazelle.

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These stunning visuals, however, may soon be relegated to archival footage after it was revealed that the Cheetah could soon be staring at extinction, and that's a fate hard to run from, no matter what mammal you are.

According to research led by the Zoological Society of London, there are only 7,100 cheetahs left in the world covering just 9% of the range they once did.

The most shocking statistics come from Zimbabwe where the cheetah population has fallen by a catastrophic 85% in just 16 years (from 1,200 animals to just 170).

According to Dr Sarah Durant, who's head of the cheetah conservation programme, the cheetah faces a myriad of threats. The dwindling habitat is especially critical as the big cat needs space; poaching and declining numbers in its prey, are also responsible for the dwindling numbers.

Experts now want the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to change the animal's status from 'Vulnerable' to 'Endangered', which would then mobilize more resources for its conservation and protection.

What's even more depressing is the fact that more than half the surviving cheetah are in one population, spanning six countries across Africa. There were cheetahs in Asia, but apart from 50 in Iran, they have vanished from the continent.

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Dr Durant believes that the nature of the cat – timid and elusive – makes it very difficult to gather hard data on its habits and movement, which, she believes, may have led it to fall under the conservationists' radar.

"Our findings show that the large space requirements for the 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," she told the BBC.