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Speed alone can't save the cheetah

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But advocates for the species say they believe they have a real opportunity to slow – and in some places even reverse – the cheetah's decline. Over the past decade, the number of cheetah conservation organizations has expanded, and the groups have increasingly coordinated their efforts. They say more people seem to be taking note of the cheetah's precarious situation – in the United States and Europe, for sure, but more important, in the handful of countries where cheetahs still live in the wild.

"We've seen a lot of shifts in attitudes in Namibia as well as in Kenya where we've worked so extensively," says Laurie Marker, founder of Namibia's 18-year-old Cheetah Conservation Foundation. "We've seen a lot of wake-up attitudes in South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, and even changes in North Africa and Iran."

Relief for the cheetah would send hopeful signs about the state of some of the world's last true wildernesses, conservationists say. But the cat is by no means out of harm's way, they say.

"If there's pressure on an ecosystem, they're the first you're going to see it with," says Charles Knowles, the executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Network, which funds conservation entrepreneurs and groups. "Cheetahs serve as a good indicator species for predators in an ecosystem. If you can make it healthy for a cheetah, you're going to make it healthy for everyone."

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A close look at Duma shows what makes the cheetah so unusual for the cat world.

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