Cheetahs may be suffering eye damage as a knock-on effect of the greening of semi-arid regions – itself a consequence of rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
As a result of carbon dioxide fertilisation, savannah grasslands have become more thickly wooded – mostly with thorn trees like acacia.
Cheetahs are now on the Red List of threatened species.
Lack of evidence about causes and frequency of cheetah’s eye damage
There is some disagreement over the causes of cheetahs’ eye damage. The charity Africat, which is based on a 22 000 ha private nature reserve/conservation tourism camp in central Namibia, claims that increasing thorn tree cover of cheetahs’ grassland habitat is to blame. They attribute this not to CO2 fertilisation but to land use practices, claiming overgrazing by cattle farmers has degraded the grassland and led to its replacement by trees and scrub.
But specialist eye vet Dr. Gary Bauer told Guardian environment blogger Adam Welz that
“no research has been done to figure out how common these injuries are in the wild population or to confirm the assumption that cheetahs living in bush-encroached areas suffer more eye injuries than cheetahs in open habitats. There’s no hard proof that eye injuries are an immediate threat to the species’ survival, or if they’re any worse in bush-encroached areas.”