Cheetahs seem to have originated in the United States in the Texas, Nevada, and Wyoming area. They spread through Europe, Asia and Africa, were nearly wiped out with the last Ice Age, approximately 10,000 years ago. It is thought that only 500 might have survive. From the those few cheetahs, the current stock of cheetah.
The present world population of cheetahs are derived from inbreeding by those very few surviving populations and closely related animals. This has created the weak genetic traits in the living cheetah population today. Cheetahs no matter which of the four subspecies are more closely related than identical twins. Studies have shown that there is less than one percent difference in DNA between the subspecies. Human genetic diversity is about thirty-seven percent diversity.
The smallest of the large cats, and one of the most endangered. Without a doubt, the imminent threat of extinction is due to man’s direct interference. People hunt cheetahs as pests, for house pets, trophies and its fur. People have decimate this beautiful animals food supply to support livestock, and convert their habitat to farmland. People are the reason that cheetah numbers are falling today.
Cheetahs are in need of a booster shot from several areas, If there were a magic wand:
- the genes pool of the cheetahs needs increasing through crosses with genes from ancient relatives.
- Cheetah mothers in the wild by nature are solitary so the cubs are vulnerable when mom goes hunting. Maybe closer monitoring can help save them.
- Cheetahs have great speed, but do not have the strength of other big cats in their jaws, so they cannot compete with the lions for territory or food. Protected areas maybe the only answer for this weakened species. Not economically practical though.
As long as the adults stay in the wild, they seem to stay healthy.
- Keeping them in captivity tends to increase diseases in these cats.
- The sperm have a low viability so artificial insemination results are not impressive.
- Mating in captivity yields poor results.
Rewilding has not been very successful or wide spread, somehow this may hold the key to increasing their numbers.
Surrogate semi wild mothers for abandoned cubs may help the cubs learn survival skills and finally be released back to the wild.
There are several groups in Africa working with cheetahs and the people that live on the cheetah lands. Education is making inroads with the farmers and helping development economic alternatives is helping to save the lives of many cheetah cubs and adults.
If cheetahs are to survive man and cheetah must learn to coexist. Don’t let this cheetah ( pictured on the right) be the only memory the next generation has of this beautiful endangered cat.
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Image courtesy of Nature’s Crusaders library
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