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Saturday, November 7, 2009

What is a King Cheetah?

There are seven sub-species of Cheetah. Two are found in Asia (less than 200 animals) and the other five species are found in Africa - one group in Algeria, a second group spread between Nigeria to Somalia, a third group in the Ngorogoro Crater area, a fourth group on the plains of Kenya and Tanzania. These four groups total less than 3000 animals. The fifth African group belongs to Southern Africa where it is estimated that there are less than 500 animals.

The King Cheetah is the same species as the Southern African Acinonyx Jabatus Jubatus but has different colour markings. Instead of black sports on a yellow/gold coat the King Cheetah have short solid black stripes about the size of three or four spots blending together.

King Cheetah are as the result of a double recessive gene. Most Cheetah do not carry the Tabby gene as the King factor is called. Only when a male Tabby gene carrier and a female Tabby gene carrier breed may they produce one King Cheetah out of four cubs. Hence the King Cheetah is extremely rare and there maybe less than forty animals of which about 90% are in captive breeding centres, zoos or kept as pets. The last confirmed wild sighting was in Kruger National Park in 1993 where a very large male was seen.

The breeding centres of note in South Africa are, de Wildt Cheetah Park near Johannesburg. They have about a hundred Cheetahs of which seven are King Cheetahs. In1981 the first King Cheetah was born at de Wildt. The other centre is the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre which is situated near the Kruger National Park. They have thirty six Cheetah of which only three are King Cheetah.

Cheetah numbers continue to fall. Their genetic base is narrow hence survivability is low. They are continually threatened by lion and hyena that compete and steal the Cheetah’s kill. Farmers have shot Cheetah for centuries but hope is on the horizon in the form of the Anatolian sheep dog which are used to protect the farmers livestock. In addition through education, farmers are no longer culling every Cheetah in sight.

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