According to a report published in the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, an estimated 7,100 cheetahs remain in the wild across Africa and a small area of Iran, and human encroachment is to blame for pushing the cats out of 91 percent of their historic habitat.
The report said that cheetahs had been virtually wiped out in Asia, with fewer than 50 left in Iran.
"This period is really crunch time for species like cheetah that need these big areas," said Sarah Durant, a lead author of the report and cheetah specialist at the Zoological Society of London.
Researchers said that in addition to habitat loss, falling numbers could also be attributed to the illegal trade in cheetah cubs, the trafficking of cheetah skins, attacks from villagers and the loss of the cheetah's prey.
The report recommended that the cheetah be defined as "endangered" instead of the less serious "vulnerable", on an official watch list of threatened species worldwide.