If the cheetah were to go extinct, the resulting disruption in the food chain would include an uncontrolled rise in populations of prey animals such as antelope and a corresponding decrease in local vegetation. When prey animals become overpopulated, the affected herds become less healthy and experience an increase in starvation and malnutrition.
The cheetah, a member of the Felinae family of big cats, is a large, lean predator with a spotted coat. A swift runner, the cheetah uses speed and semi-retractable claws to take down prey such as gazelles, impalas and hares. As of 2015, the Endangered Species Act categorizes the cheetah as endangered. Threats to the species include a poor gene pool, competition from other predators, loss of habitat and human threats such as hunting and the illegal exotic animal trade.
The food chain requires a balance of predators and prey. When that balance is upset by the extinction of a predator, prey animals become overpopulated, which puts a greater demand on the prey animals' food source, local vegetation. When vegetation sources are depleted, prey animals starve. In addition, the loss of local vegetation alters the landscape, making wildfires more frequent and intense. Also, without predators to keep prey populations in check and take down sick individuals, disease spreads more readily through populations of prey animals.