Harare - Zimbabwe's population of endangered cheetahs has declined by around 85% in the last 15 years with no more than 170 of these beautiful big cats left, a new study shows.Back in 1999, Zimbabwe's cheetah population was estimated at a minimum of 1 520. Around 1 200 of these cheetahs lived on commercial farmlands while 320 were found in National Parks areas, according to records quoted by a survey by the Cheetah Conservation Project of Zimbabwe carried out between 2013 and 2015.Now that figure is down to between 150 and 170.That includes both adult and independent adolescent cheetahs.Changes in land use (including a fast-track land reform programme) have had a "severe impact" on Zimbabwe's cheetah population, leading to a loss of biodiversity. Cheetah range in Zimbabwe has shrunk by around 61%, the survey says. The distribution of cheetahs is very different to what it was in the late 1990s: more than 80% of cheetahs left now in Zimbabwe are found not on farms but in protected areas like national parks and wildlife conservancies. In these areas, human-wildlife conflict is less of a threat. The survey quotes a paper showing that around 1975, there were only an estimated 400 cheetahs in Zimbabwe. Their habit of preying on livestock made them especially vulnerable to farmers here as elsewhere. Farmers often preferred a quick, quiet kill method rather than the onerous process of getting a permit to kill the problem animal. 'Shoot, shovel and shut up'The survey describes the farmers' methods - chillingly - as "shoot, shovel and shut up". But in the 1990s, a number of management strategies led to something of a recovery in the Zimbabwe's cheetah population. The organisers of this survey used a variety of methods to try to get as accurate a picture as possible of current cheetah populations, asking tourists, farmers and rangers for cheetah sightings but also travelling around much of Zimbabwe to interview those in areas cheetahs might be found. Almost all of Zimbabwe's cheetahs are now found in the south of the country, in Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North and Masvingo provinces, the survey shows.Sadly, this massive decline in the numbers and the range of cheetahs in Zimbabwe follows global trends. According to this survey, there are only around 6,700 cheetahs left in the world (around 4 190 of them are in southern Africa). That decline is due partly to habitat loss worldwide, but it's also due to loss of prey and human persecution. The capture of cheetahs for the illegal pet trade is also a threat.In the wild, cheetahs are often confused with leopards. Among several differences, cheetahs have a 'tear-line', extending from the inside of the eyes to the mouth. Chunkier in build, leopards do not have a tear-line.