Widely, but sparsely, distributed from Senegal to Somalia (both countries where their status is unclear) and south to South Africa, with small, isolated populations existing in Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt. Outside of the African continent, individuals survive only in extremely small fragmented populations in Iran and possibly Pakistan.
Habitat of a Cheetah
Although cheetahs live well in grassy plains, they prefer open woodland savannahs with high visibility. Hunting success is enhanced by moderate vegetation growth for shelter, but dense scrub limits their hunting strategy.
Cheetahs are mostly confined to subtropical and arid habitats with an annual rainfall of 100 to 600 mm. Although the past distribution includes the temperate grasslands of the highlands, this habitat is as marginal as the cheetah does not tolerate snow and extreme cold with temperatures below 5°C. They avoid mountain terrain and river groves, however, there are reports of Cheetah at altitudes of 4000 m on Mt Kenya, and in the central Sahara. They are absent from rainforest and closed woodland. The abundance of their prey is the most important factor when it comes to choosing their habitat.
Historical Distribution of Cheetah
At least until the nineteenth century Cheetahs had a wide range across much of Africa and south-west Asia. Their range extended through much of North Africa and the Saharan regions, through Arabia and the Middle East to the Caucasus and eastwards through Central Asia to about Kazakhstan and eastwards through Pakistan to India.
In North Africa, the last record for the Cheetah in Western Sahara dates to 1976, when an animal was given to the Algiers Zoo, while the last known Cheetah in Tunisia was killed in 1960 near Bordj Bowrgiba in the extreme south. The last observation of a Cheetah in Libya was in 1980 in the south-western part of the country bordering Algeria.
In Saudi Arabia, the last record dates to 1973, in Yemen to 1963, in Israel to 1959 and in India to 1947. In sub-Saharan Africa, they were widely distributed from Senegal to the Horn of Africa and then southwards at least as far south as about Beaufort West in the Western Cape and just north of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
Current Distribution of Cheetah
The current distribution of the Cheetah is much changed from its historical range; Ray et al. (2005) estimated that the Cheetah has disappeared from at least 76% of its historical range in Africa. In their once expansive range stretching from North Africa to India, populations remain only in a few isolated regions. In Egypt, the entire population has been reduced to a few nomadic individuals surviving in a highly inaccessible area in the northern and western parts of the Qattara Depression, in the northern section of the Western Egyptian Desert.
In Morocco. There is evidence for the persistence of the species in the Algerian high plateaux. In the southern Sahara, Cheetahs still persist in mountain ranges in SE Algeria, Mali, and Niger, although they can range far out onto sandy plains where there is sufficient prey.
In sub-Saharan Africa, they are now rare across most of their range in West Africa and are considered regionally extinct in Nigeria and Cameroon. Likewise, they are now thinly distributed across the remaining parts of their range, and no longer occur in Djibouti, Eritrea, Rwanda, or Burundi; a small resident population persists in Uganda.
The indigenous population in Swaziland was also extirpated, but they have been reintroduced, and widely so elsewhere, such as in South Africa’s KwaZulu–Natal. Their current status in eastern and southern Africa has been recently reviewed, but their status in several countries, particularly Somalia and Angola, remains poorly known.
Extralimital to the continent, populations of Asiatic Cheetahs survive only in central Iran. The animals occur in the foothills and dry water-courses of desert massifs, where prey is more common than on the flats. Habitat is generally depicted as a species frequenting open plains, particularly the open grasslands of East Africa, but in much of their range also found in savanna woodlands, including the miombo and Acacia woodlands of southern and central Africa. They also are associated with the lowveld (and formerly highveld) of southern Africa, sparsely vegetated areas of the Sahel, and even semi-desert, as in the pro-Namib of Namibia.
Some still survive in parts of the Sahara, where they lie up during the day in cover; the surviving population in Egypt inhabits uninhabited oasis depressions within the Qattara Depression, where large groves of Acacia raddiana west and south-west of these habitats appear to be regularly visited by Cheetahs.