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The South African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus), also known as the Namibian cheetah,[3] is the most numerous and the nominate cheetah subspecies native to Southern Africa. Since 1986, it has been classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN.[2] The South African cheetah live mainly in the lowland areas and deserts of the Kalahari, the savannahs of Okavango Delta and the grasslands of the Transvaal region in South Africa. In Namibia, cheetahs are mostly found in farmlands. The South African cheetah was first described by the German zoologist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber under the trinomen Felis jubatus jubatus in the Dutch Cape Colony in 1775.[1]

South African cheetah[1]
Cheetah Umfolozi SouthAfrica MWegmann.jpg
A South African cheetah at the Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park, South Africa.
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Genus: Acinonyx
Species: A. jubatus
Subspecies: A. j. jubatus
Trinomial name
Acinonyx jubatus jubatus
(Schreber, 1775)
Acinonyx jubatus subspecies range.png
A. j. jubatus range (blue)
Synonyms

Acinonyx jubatus guttata
(Hermann, 1804)
Acinonyx jubatus lanea
(Sclater, 1877)
Acinonyx jubatus obergi
(Hilzheimer, 1913)
Acinonyx jubatus rex
(Pocock, 1927)

Previously estimated at a population of 4,190 individuals in Southern Africa since 2007,[2] the total population of the South African cheetah has likely reached to over 6,000 individuals,[4][5] with Namibia having the largest cheetah population worldwide. Since 1990 and onwards, the population was estimated at approximately 2,500 individuals in Namibia, until 2015, the cheetah population has been increased to more than 3,500 in the country.[6] Botswana contains the second-largest population of cheetahs. In 2007, there were an estimated population of 1,800 individuals. However, in 2016, there are approximately 2,000 South African cheetahs in Botswana, which is about 20% of the world's cheetahs.[7] There were 550 to 850 cheetahs left in South Africa in 2007. After many conservation efforts, the cheetah population has boosted to more than 1,000 individuals. Previously in 2013, there were an estimated population of between 1,200 and 1,300 cheetahs in South Africa.[8][9] Whilst it is estimated that 1,500 adult cheetahs live in South Africa since 2016,[10] it is also stated by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) that the total population ranges between 1,166 and 1,742 cheetahs in South Africa alone in 2017.[11] In Zimbabwe, on the contrary, the cheetahs' population have severely declined. The population have decreased from more than 1,500 cheetahs since 1999 to 400 cheetahs in 2007, to between 150 and 170 cheetahs as of 2015 in the country. In 2007, approximately 100 individuals remain in Zambia and between 50 and 90 left in Mozambique.

The South African cheetah have gone extinct in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Lesotho. The cheetahs have been reintroduced in Swaziland[2] and recently in Malawi.[12][13]

Historically, it was believed all cheetahs were genetically homogenous.[14] This changed in January 2011, when the Asiatic cheetahs and the Sudan cheetahs were revealed to be distinct even from their closest relatives from South Africa.[15][16]

Contents

TaxonomyEdit

 
An illustration of a cheetah cub (Acinonyx jubatus guttata) by Joseph Wolf in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1867.

The subspecies, along with the whole species were first described by German naturalist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber in his 1775 publication Die Säugethiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur mit Beschreibungen (The Mammals illustrated from Nature with descriptions) in Western Cape Province, Cape of Good Hope.[1]

Following Schreber's description of a South African cheetah skin from the Dutch Cape Colony, other naturalists and zoologists also described cheetahs from other parts of Southern Africa that today are all considered synonyms of A. j. jubatus:

  • In 1804, the French naturalist Johann Hermann proposed the scientific name "Felis guttata" ("Acinonyx jubatus gutatta" or "Acinonyx jubatus gutattus"). Although for some reason, it is also synonymous to the African cheetah of Fahhad (A. j. soemmeringii) described by Alfred Edmund Brehm in his scientific reference book Brehms Tierleben (Brehm's Life of Animals) during his trip to Abyssinia in the 1860s,[17] which also lived in Egypt.
  • In 1834, the Scottish zoologist Andrew Smith proposed the scientific name "Felis fearonii" (also spelled "fearoni" or "fearsoni"). Although it was supposedly given to the South African cheetah which Smith found at the northeast of the Natal, it is also synonymous to the East African cheetah.[18]
  • In 1869, the Austrian zoologist Leopard Fitzinger proposed the scientific name "Felis fearonis" for a cheetah he discovered at the Cape of Good Hope. Although it serves as a substitute for Felis fearonii described by Smith in 1834. For some reason, it is also synonymous to the East African cheetah.[18]
  • In 1877, the English zoologist Philip Lutley Sclater discovered the woolly cheetah in west of the Cape Provinces from Beaufort West in South Africa. He presented these skins of woolly cheetahs under the name Felis lanea.[19]
  • In 1913, the German zoologist Max Hilzheimer proposed the name Acinonyx guttatus obergi for the South African cheetahs from Keetmanshoop, South-West Africa.[20]
  • In 1927, the naturalist Reginald Innes Pocock has discovered a King cheetah in Umvukwe Range, northwest of Salisbury, Rhodesia and proposed the name Acinonyx rex.[21]

Evolutionary historyEdit

 
A regular South African cheetah at Kruger National Park, South Africa.

At early Pleistocene, the earliest African cheetah fossils have been found in the lower beds of the Olduvai Gorge site in northern Tanzania. Although, the cheetah fossils in Southern Africa were found back in between 3.5 and 3 million years ago. The South African cheetah is the second oldest subspecies.[22]

The cheetahs from Africa and Asia were previously considered as genetically identical to each other.[23] Until DNA researches and analysis started in early 1990s showed that the South African cheetahs and East African cheetahs are indeed separate subspecies.[24]

In September 2009, the Asiatic cheetah was believed to be identical to the African cheetahs. Stephen J. O'Brien from the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity of the National Cancer Institute stated that they have been separated from each other for only 5,000 years, which is not enough time to be classified as a separate subspecies.[25][26]

Until in early 2011, results of phylogeographic genetic analysis on cheetah subspecies revealed more about the distinctiveness and significant differences between cheetah subspecies, revealing two distinct subspecies of cheetahs which are closely related to the South African population. The mitochondrial DNA data shows that the East African subspecies had no common haplotype with the South African cheetahs, although one haplotype consisting cheetah populations from Tanzania and Kenya clustered together with the South African cheetahs. It was suggested that a population in East Africa might be derived from a relatively recent re-colonization events as observed in the African lions. The mtDNA study reveals that the divergence between the two populations occurred between 28,000 and 36,000 years ago.[27] The Sudan cheetah from Northeast Africa have been diverged from its South African relative between 16,000 and 72,000 years ago. The Asiatic cheetah's subspecific level differentiation had already occurred after diverging from its South African relative between 32,000 and 67,000 years ago.[27][15][16]

GeneticsEdit

 
An illustration of the woolly cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus lanea) by Joseph Smit in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1877.
 
A captive King cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus rex).

The woolly cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus lanea) was discovered in late 19th century by English zoologist Philip Sclater. They were considered as a separate species of cheetah that had thicker bodies, longer and denser fur. Several specimens were obtained. It may be that creatures were in fact the same species as the present-day cheetah, but with a genetic disposition to long fur. In 1877, Philip Sclater of the Zoological Society of London wrote of a recent acquisition by the zoo. In 1878, a second woolly cheetah was reported as a preserved specimen in the South African Museum. Both the London and South African specimens had come from Beaufort West. In 1884, a third skin was obtained from the same area, though this had more distinct spots and was a little smaller. By the late 1880s, the trophy hunters had eliminated the woolly cheetahs; from the number and locality of specimens it seems that this variant had evolved very recently (generations rather than millennia); perhaps all those animals (it seems only a handful are known at best) were the offspring of a single couple born around 1875, or maybe one more generation. The woolly cheetah has, in any case, vanished.[28]

The King cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus rex) was considered a different species in 1927 by naturalist Reginald Innes Pocock. It was discovered that it was a mutation caused by a recessive gene.[29] The king cheetah is a rare variant of the South African cheetah, first discovered in southern Rhodesia in 1925. A king cheetah was first found in South Africa in 1940 and in Botswana in 1942. However, in 1981, it turned out that king cheetahs were never a different species, as king cheetahs were born from regular South African cheetahs parents at the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre in South Africa, and another king cheetah were born from two female cheetahs having mated with a wild-caught male cheetah from the Transvaal Province and more king cheetahs were born later at the De Wildt Cheetah Centre.[30] The king cheetahs are found in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana. In 2012, the cause of this alternative coat pattern was found to be a mutation in the gene for transmembrane aminopeptidase Q (Taqpep), the same gene responsible for the striped "mackerel" versus blotchy "classic" patterning seen in tabby cats.[31]

The South African cheetah also has melanism as one of its rare color morph. A melanistic cheetah in Zambia was seen by Vesey Fitzgerald in the company of a spotted cheetah.

Physical characteristicsEdit

 
A South African cheetah in Sabi Sand Game Reserve.

The South African cheetah is a medium-sized cat. An adult male cheetah's total size can measure up from 168 to 200 cm (66 to 79 in) and 162 to 213 cm (64 to 84 in) for females. Adult cheetahs are 70 to 90 cm (28 to 35 in) tall at the shoulder. Males are slightly taller than females and have slightly bigger heads with wider incisors and longer mandibles.[22]

Measurements taken of wild South African cheetahs in Namibia indicate that the females range in head-and-body length from 113 to 140 cm (44 to 55 in) with 59.5 to 73 cm (23.4 to 28.7 in) long tails, and weigh between 21 and 63 kg (46 and 139 lb); males range in head-and-body length from 113 to 136 cm (44 to 54 in) with 60 to 84 cm (24 to 33 in) long tails, and weigh between 28.5 and 65 kg (63 and 143 lb).[32]

The South African cheetah have a bright yellow or sometimes a golden coat, and its fur is slightly thicker than that of other subspecies. The white underside of the South African cheetah is very distinct, especially on the neck and breast, and it has less spotting on its belly. The spots on the face are more pronounced, and as a whole its spots seem more dense than those of most other subspecies. The tear marks of the South African cheetah are notably thicker at the corners of the mouth, and almost all of them have distinct brown mustache markings. Like the Asiatic cheetah, it is known to have fur behind their tail and have both white and black tips at the end of its tail. However, South African cheetahs may also have only black tips at the end of the tail.

In desert areas, such as the Kalahari Desert, South African cheetahs are somewhat smaller and skinnier with leaner bright colored fur, a trait the Northwest African cheetah has.

Habitat and distributionEdit

 
A South African cheetah at Kruger National Park during the sunset, South Africa.

The South African cheetah usually lives on grasslands, savannahs, scrub forests and arid environments such as deserts and semi-desert steppes. The cheetah can be found in open fields where they chase and hunt herbivorous mammals such as antelopes at a very high speed. In South Africa, the cheetah also prefers woodlands (in Kruger National Park), shrublands, high mountains, mountainous grasslands and montane areas with exotic vegetables where favorable preys are mostly available.

The South African cheetah is currently the only most common subspecies and was widespread everywhere on southern to central Africa, ranging from South Africa to the southern Democratic Republic of the Congo (Katanga Province) and southern Tanzania. Although, the South African cheetah's range is now greatly reduced, where it occurs in an area of 1,223,388 km2 (472,353 sq mi), 22% of its original range.

NamibiaEdit

 
A South African cheetah at Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary, Namibia.

In the past, less than 10,000 South African cheetahs were over hunted in Namibian farmlands. Previously estimated at mere 2,000 individuals since the 1990s and onwards, as of 2015, over 3,500 cheetahs live in Namibia today. The country maintains the largest population of wild cheetahs worldwide.

About 90-95% of the South African cheetahs live on Namibian farmlands, others live in the Kalahari Basin, the coastal deserts of Namib and Kaokoveld and the central to northeastern region of the country. Although Namibian cheetahs are mostly found outside of protected areas, they also live in Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary, Namib-Naukluft National Park and Bwabwata National Park. The cheetahs are rather uncommon in Etosha National Park and in Palmwag.

BotswanaEdit

 
A South African cheetah silhouetted against a fiery sunset in Okavango Delta, Botswana.

With an approximate population of 2,000 South African cheetahs as of 2016, Botswana has the second-largest population of cheetahs well distributed in the country.[33][7]

They are mostly found in arid habitats of the Central Kalahari, Mokolodi Nature Reserve and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (known as Gemsbok National Park in Botswana) in the south, and in the southwest and also in the northern region of the country that holds the largest prey base, such as in Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve. Khutse Game Reserve is also known to contain high abundance of suitable prey base for cheetahs, such as springboks, gemsboks and wildebeests.

The South African cheetah are rarely found in the eastern Botswana and at the Zimbabwean border.

South AfricaEdit

 
A South African cheetah at Kruger National Park, South Africa.

In South Africa, cheetahs live in the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West and Northern Cape provinces. After conservation efforts throughout the years, cheetahs have been reintroduced in the eastern, western, southern parts and recently in the Free State province of the country.

Over 90% of the cheetah population are found outside protected areas such as game reserves and in farmlands.[34] There are more than 412 cheetahs in Kruger National Park, sub-populations of 300 to 350 in parks and reserves, and 400 to 500 free-roaming on farmlands in the Limpopo and North West Province. Although, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is the stronghold for South African cheetahs living in South Africa. It is estimated that Kruger and Kalahari Gemsbok National Parks hold the largest populations. Those two large conservation areas are home to approximately 42% of South Africa's cheetahs.[35]

Although, cheetahs were not common in South Africa.[36] Except, as of now, the country contains the third-largest population of cheetahs after years of conservation actions and reintroductions into the wild. In 2016, it is estimated about 1,500 adult cheetahs live in the wild.

ZimbabweEdit

 
An orphan cheetah set to be reintroduced to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

The South African cheetah population have been dramatically decreased in Zimbabwe, from about a thousand to 400 as of 2007. Currently, the Zimbabwean population of cheetahs are estimated at 165 individuals.[37]

Prior the population decline, the South African cheetahs were more widespread in Zimbabwe and its population had excellent growth rate, in which over 1,500 individuals thrived. Back in 1973, it was estimated that 400 cheetahs lived in Zimbabwe and has increased to 470 in 1987. Afterwards in 1991, a total population of 1,391 cheetahs were found by the Zimbabwe Department of Parks and Wildlife Management, whilst in 1996, a population of 728 cheetahs lived on commercial farmlands alone. In 1999, a minimum total population of 1,520 were estimated, in which over 1 200 of these cheetahs lived on commercial farmlands while 320 were found in National Parks. A year later, several reports questioned whether the Zimbabwean cheetahs were stable or decreasing, however it was increasing at the time. However, cheetahs are known to be highly threatened in farmlands in which between 1999 and 2007, 80% of the population of Zimbabwean cheetahs living in private farmlands fell into massive decline due to human-cheetah conflict, reduced to over a thousand to less than 400 of its total population in the country as of 2007. It was known that about 100 cheetahs were killed by livestock farmers in Zimbabwe's lowveld per year.[38][39] Following years later, there are about 150 to 170 adult cheetahs and the human-cheetah conflict is no longer a major threat to the species. Most of the South African cheetahs live in Zimbabwean protected areas today.[40]

Cheetahs are majorly found at the southern to central regions. Isolated populations are found in northwestern Zimbabwe, such as Victoria Falls, Matetsi and Kazuma Pan, also near the Mozambican border. Hwange National Park, the largest reserve with an area of 14,650 km2 (5,660 sq mi), is the main stronghold for the Zimbabwean cheetahs.[36][41]

South African cheetahs also live in Matobo National Park. The cheetahs of the Zambezi Valley are nearly extinct, as there are 3 individuals remaining in Matusadona National Park and 9 in the Mana Pools National Park. There are 29 individuals remaining in the Zimbabwean lowveld, most of which live in Gonarezhou National Park, private reserves (Bubye, Save, Malilangwe, Nuanetsi), and at the Chilojo Cliffs.[42]

ZambiaEdit

In Zambia, the South African cheetahs are mostly spotted at Matamene Camp of Liuwa Plain National Park from the Western Province. The national park is part of the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. They are also present at the 5,000 km2 (1,900 sq mi) Kafue National Park, near the Kafue River and at the 22,400 km2 (8,600 sq mi) Sioma Ngwezi National Park (the second-largest park in Africa) in the southwest corner of Zambia. There are approximately a hundred cheetahs living in the country.

MozambiqueEdit

In 2007, between 50 and 90 South African cheetahs were estimated in the wild of Mozambique. The Mozambican cheetahs live in grasslands, savannahs and mixed Acacia and mopane woodlands. However, most habitats in their range consists of wetlands and rivers.

Historically, South African cheetahs were widespread across west, north and southern regions of the country. By 1975, it was estimated that 200 individuals persisted in Mozambique. Although, the cheetahs lost most of their range during the Mozambican Civil War due to intense poaching on the cheetahs and prey base.[43] However, recent researches and camera traps since 2004 and 2011 revealed constant presences of cheetahs and other healthy populations of predators and herbivorous mammals in the conservation areas of Mozambique in Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. It is estimated that 35 cheetahs live in Limpopo National Park.[44]

The South African cheetahs are also found in Zinave National Park and Banhine National Park, which are part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.

TanzaniaEdit

On contrary to the Tanzanian cheetah that are widespread from central to northern Tanzania, the now-rare South African cheetahs lived in southern Tanzania instead. They ranged close to the Zambia/Malawi borders in the southwest to the southeasternmost part of the country. The South African cheetahs are found at Mpanga-Kipengere Game Reserve and the Uwanda Game Reserve. It is unknown whether or not the cheetahs are extinct in Selous Game Reserve.

SwazilandEdit

The indigenous population of cheetahs were extinct in Swaziland, until in 1997, three South African cheetahs have been reintroduced into the Hlane Royal National Park, the largest 30,000 ha protected area of Swaziland.

AngolaEdit

South African cheetahs were once thought to be extinct from Angola, until two adult male cheetahs were spotted at 1.6 million hectare Iona National Park in 2010 by Dr. Laurie Marker (Founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund). The national park is also a suitable habitat for the cheetah, as it has a large open savannah and growing prey base such as springboks and oryx. It is the first time cheetahs have been sighted in the wild of Angola in 30 years.[45]

MalawiEdit

There were previously 25 to 50 South African cheetahs in Malawi. However, they were extirpated from the country due to loss of suitable habitats and lack of prey. Back in 1980, the South African cheetahs were only found in three protected areas (Kasungu National Park, Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve), also at the Zambia border in the west. In 1996, the cheetahs were nearly extinct from the country. In 2007, the cheetah were officially declared extinct from Malawi.[2][46][47]

In May 2017, four South African cheetahs, two males and two females were imported from South Africa and reintroduced to Liwonde National Park of Malawi.[12][13]

Ecology and behaviorEdit

Reproduction and life cycleEdit

 
Three male South African cheetahs at Sabi Sand Game Reserve.

Male cheetahs are sociable and may live in a group of other males. Male South African cheetahs establish their territories by marking their territories by urinating on trees or termite mounds.

The females, on the other hand, are not sociable and do not establish a territory. They are solitary and avoid each other. However, they may live with their mothers, daughters or sisters on their home ranges. Female South African cheetah's home range's size can depend on the prey base. Cheetahs in southern African woodlands have ranges as small as 34 km2 (13 sq mi), while in some parts of Namibia they can reach 1,500 km2 (580 sq mi).

Female cheetahs can reproduce at 13 to 16 months of age and with an average age of sexual maturity between 20 and 23 months.[48] The gestation can last for 90 to 95 days. South African cheetah cub births mostly occur at November to January in Namibia and November to March in Zambia.[22] Female South African cheetahs hunt solo, except the cheetah cubs will accompany their mothers to learn how to hunt on their own after the age of five to six weeks. After the South African cheetah cubs reach 18 months of age, the mother will leave her cubs, and the siblings remain a group for a few months until the sisters leave the group and the brothers stay together.

Hunting and dietEdit

 
A South African cheetah suffocating an impala in Timbavati, South Africa.

The South African cheetah is a carnivorous mammal. It preys on medium-sized and large antelopes, also fast small animals such as Cape hares. It prefers impala, kudu, puku, oribi, springbok, gemsbok, steenbok, wildebeest, warthog, red hartebeest, and other ungulates. The South African cheetah's preferred prey species is the oryx and the nyala.

Enemies and competitorsEdit

Like all cheetahs, South African cheetahs are threatened and outranked by larger predators in their area. They are threatened by Southeast or Southwest African lions,[49][50] and African leopards, spotted hyenas and wild dogs, as they can kill cheetahs and/or steal their carcasses. The cheetahs would surrender their meals to spotted hyenas. Cheetahs are known to be unable to defend themselves against these predators. However, coalitions of male adult cheetahs can chase predators away, and a single cheetah can chase jackals and a lone wild dog away.[citation needed]

ThreatsEdit

The South African cheetah is a vulnerable subspecies, due to poaching, habitat loss and lack of prey. Indiscriminate capture and removal of wild cheetahs in southern Africa continue to threaten the survival of this species, as it may reduce the genetic diversity in the wild and they breed poorly in captivity. The South African cheetah's survival is also threatened by inbreeding. In Botswana, the cheetahs are mostly threatened by habitat changes.

The cheetah was also highly threatened by hunting and range loss. In early 1930s, the cheetahs were hunted down and got almost extinct in South Africa. Therefore, it has lost most of its ranges, mostly in South Africa and Mozambique. Only a few dozens of them live in the southern part of Mozambique. It also disappeared from many regions of South Africa, only living in the northern and northeastern parts of the country.

During the 1970s, 9,500 cheetahs were killed in Namibian farmlands. As a protected species in Namibia, people are allowed to remove Namibian cheetahs only if they pose a threat to livestock or human life. Unfortunately, farmers might capture Namibian cheetahs, often removing or killing those that have not taken any livestock. 90% of the Namibian cheetah population live on farmlands.

In Botswana, the South African cheetah is protected under the Conserved Animal legislation since 1968, which strictly limits hunting and capture. Before then, the decline of suitable preys caused the cheetahs to go feed on livestock. About 50 cheetah were previously hunted down by tribesmen a year to protect livestock.

Limited international trade in live animals and skins is permitted from Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.[48]

History and former rangeEdit

In early 20th century, the African cheetah was widespread everywhere in the continent, until they lost most of their ranges and disappeared from 23 countries.

The South African cheetahs are locally extinct from the southern Democratic Republic of the Congo. They used to live in the Katanga, southern Bandundu, southern Kasai-Occidental and Bas-Congo. They probably extended to Kinshasa. It was previously estimated that about 100 to 500 cheetahs lived in the Congo between 1950-70s. Kundelungu National Park was one of the remaining stronghold for the cheetahs after recent extinction of Tanzanian cheetahs from Virunga National Park and Sudan cheetahs from Garamba National Park during the 1960s. Although, rumored sightings have been reported occasionally in the southern regions of the Congo, such as near the Angolan border, around the Sandoa Territory and on the Kibara Plateau of Upemba National Park.[36] To this day, Upemba is still considered as the only national park of the country to contain cheetah populations.[51]

Conservation statusEdit

Cheetah populations
Country Estimate
  Angola ???
  Botswana 2,000
  Democratic Republic of the Congo n/a
  Lesotho n/a
  Malawi 4
  Mozambique 50 - 90
  Namibia 3,500
  South Africa 1,500
  Swaziland ???
  Tanzania ???
  Zambia 100
  Zimbabwe 165
Total 7,369 - 7409
 
South African cheetahs of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia.

There are several conservation projects for the cheetah species in African countries and Iran. Like the Asiatic cheetah, the South African cheetah got more attention from people than the other subspecies.

Three cheetah subspecies are included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of vulnerable species (Three African subspecies threatened, Northwest African and Asiatic subspecies in critical condition) as well as on the US Endangered Species Act: threatened species - Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Founded in Namibia in 1990, the Cheetah Conservation Fund's mission is to be the world's resource charged with protecting the South African cheetah and to ensure its future. The organization works with all stakeholders within the cheetah's ecosystem to develop best practices in research, education and ecology and create a sustainable model from which all other species, including people, will benefit. Approximately 12,400 cheetahs were estimated to remain in the wild in twenty-five African countries and recently 6,674 mature individuals by the IUCN; Namibia has the most, with more than 3,500 individuals of which 90% of them are living outside of protected areas. There have been successful breeding programs, including the use of in vitro fertilisation, in zoos around the world.

The cheetahs are known to be poor breeders in captivity. Though several organizations, such as the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre have succeeded in breeding high numbers of cheetah cubs. In 2009, the center has bred more than 800 South African cheetah cubs.[52]

Reintroduction projectsEdit

South AfricaEdit

 
The South African cheetah was one of the most widespread animals. Two South African cheetahs photographed at southwestern South Africa between 1906 and 1918.

The South African cheetah used to occur in several areas of Southern Africa. However, it was known that the cheetahs were not pretty much common in South Africa.

The species live mostly on the eastern and northern locations of South Africa. Since the 1960s, the cheetah had been imported from Namibia, which used to contain healthy population of cheetahs at the time and has been reintroduced to their former ranges and in small reserves. It was estimated that 29% of the cheetah population were indigenously from South Africa whilst 71% were those imported from Namibia.[53] The first known reintroductions were in KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng, Lowveld, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Southern Kalahari. There are currently 1,500 mature cheetahs within the country.[10]

In December 2003, after the cheetahs were heavily hunted in the Great Karoo and Eastern Cape areas to extinction 125 years ago, South African cheetahs have returned to the Karoo, starting with a severely injured female wild-born cheetah named Sibella (c. 2001 – 11 September 2015)[54] that went through surgery at the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust and was later reintroduced to Samara Private Game Reserve. The reintroduction process was a success. Sibella was a capable hunter and successfully raised 18 cubs. There are 2% of the wild population of cheetahs in South Africa in that region. The cheetahs living in Samara are also in better condition, as there are no threats from apex predators such as lions and hyenas.[55] Sibella's youngest daughter Chilli has given birth to the first third-generation cheetah cubs of the Samara Private Game Reserve in January 2017.[56]

A National Cheetah Metapopulation Project was launched in 2011 by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).[57] Its purpose is to develop and co-ordinate a national metapopulation management plan for cheetahs in smaller fenced reserves in South Africa. For instance, the cheetahs have been reintroduced in approx. 50 of these South African reserves. Fragmented subpopulations of South African cheetahs are currently increasing in a few hundreds.[58] As of July 2014, there are further plans to reintroduce the South African cheetahs in 6 more small fenced reserves over the next 3 years.

For the first time after 100 years of extinction since the colonial period, the cheetah has recently been reintroduced into the Free State in 2013,[59] with two male wild cheetahs that have been relocated from the Eastern Cape's Amakhala Game Reserve to the Free State's Laohu Valley Reserve, where the critically endangered South China tiger from Save China's Tigers (SCT) are part of a rewilding project in South Africa. A female cheetah has yet to be reintroduced to Laohu Valley.[60] In early 2016, an adult female South African cheetah has been reintroduced to the reserve. Three wild cheetah cubs has been born for the first time in Laohu Valley Reserve in February 2017, making the three new cubs the first cheetahs born in the wild since their disappearance from the Free State province in over a century. With 3 mature individuals and 3 cubs, there are currently 6 South African cheetahs in Laohu Valley Reserve.[61]

In 2016, there is an ongoing reintroduction and rewilding project known as Rewilding iSimangaliso for South African cheetahs in iSimangaliso situated in KwaZulu-Natal province, including Transvaal lions and Cape wild dogs, which were first introduced since late 2013.[62][63] There are 15 collared resident South African cheetahs in uMkhuze Game Reserve, which are seen by visitors during game drives.[10]

MalawiEdit

South African cheetahs is extirpated from Malawi, due to lack of prey and habitat loss due to human population increase in the corridors connecting the protected areas.[46] There are plans afoot to reintroduce the cheetahs back in Malawi, such as in Nyika National Park and Vwaza March Game Reserve. Both proposed reserves are now part of the transfrontier conservation area (TFCAs) with the objective of connecting the wildlife and tourists in the Luangwa Valley of the Zambia border and the two Malawi protected areas, improve corridors for wildlife movement and the reintroduction of cheetahs back into the wild.[47] The cheetahs will be translocated to three protected areas in Malawi in early 2017, along with 250 elephants from Majete Game Reserve and another 250 from Liwonde National Park to Nkhotakota Game Reserve.[64] In May 2017, four cheetahs from South Africa has been reintroduced to Liwonde National Park of Malawi.[12][13]

ZambiaEdit

Since 1989, just a few South African cheetahs had been recorded at the Lower Zambezi National Park, despite the area is apparently suitable habitat for cheetahs. Chiawa Camp, in association with National Parks & Wildlife and Japan Aid approached the Cheetah Conservation Fund for a study group to understand the suitability of Lower Zambezi. In October 1994, there were reintroduction attempts of three South African cheetahs to the Lower Zambezi. However, the reintroduction project had been unsuccessful, as two of them were killed by traps, however one survivor remained for three years alone. There are further plans to reintroduce the South African cheetahs to the Lower Zambezi.[65]

IndiaEdit

 
Two captive cheetahs in Nehru Zoological Park, India.

Asiatic cheetahs have existed in India for thousands of years, but as a result of hunting and other disastrous causes, the last known Indian cheetah was spotted in 1951.[66] The critically endangered species currently live in Iran, as the country itself is unwilling to give their Asiatic cheetahs to India. A captive propagation project has been proposed. Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh told the Rajya Sabha on 7 July 2009, "The cheetah is the only animal that has been described extinct in India in the last 100 years. We have to get them from abroad to repopulate the species." He was responding to a call for attention from Rajiv Pratap Rudy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). "The plan to bring back the cheetah, which fell to indiscriminate hunting and complex factors like a fragile breeding pattern is audacious given the problems besetting tiger conservation." Two naturalists, Divya Bhanusinh and MK Ranjit Singh, suggested importing South African cheetahs from Namibia, after which they will be bred in captivity and, in time, released in the wild.[67]

Multiple suitable potential sites from the Indian states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan which consisted of forests, grasslands, savannahs and deserts were chosen for the cheetah reintroduction project in India, such as Banni Grasslands Reserve, Desert National Park, Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary and Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary. They are also known to be where the Asiatic cheetahs and other mystical animals coexisted for several years until they had recently gone extinct from the region. Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary was chosen as the most suitable site for reintroduced Namibian cheetahs.[68][69]

However, the plan to reintroduce the South African cheetahs to India has been suspended in 2012, after discovering the distinctness between the cheetahs from Asia and Africa, having been separated between 32,000 and 67,000 years ago.[70][71]

In captivityEdit

 
A South African cheetah in Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Ohio.
 
Cheetahs and other captive animals are able to live in cold climate. Two South African cheetahs at Tiergarten Schönbrunn, Austria.

Cheetahs are known to be difficult to breed in captivity because of their social behaviors and breeding problems. The cub mortality in captivity and in the wild is high at about 50%. On average 30% of all captive-bred cubs born in captivity may die within a month.[48]

The South African cheetahs are the most widespread subspecies breeding in captivity around the world, while the Sudanese cheetahs are found only in a few European and Middle Eastern zoos and wildlife centers. The South African subspecies is found in various zoos worldwide in America, Africa, Eurasia and Australia.

Several zoos, facilities, breeding centers and wildlife parks part of the American (SSP, AZA) and Eurasian (EEP, EAZA) captive breeding programs have been successfully increasing the South African cheetah populations, such as White Oak Conservation from Yulee, Florida, the Wildlife Safari from Winston, Oregon that bred more than 178 cheetahs and the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre from South Africa where hundreds of cheetah cubs have been born. The Fota Wildlife Park from Ireland is also known for successfully breeding South African cheetahs in captivity right before starting a captive breeding project with the Northeast African cheetah.

In popular cultureEdit

  • The book How It Was with Dooms tells the true story of a family raising an orphaned East African cheetah cub named Duma (the Swahili word for cheetah) in Kenya. The films Cheetah (1989) and Duma (2005) were both loosely based on this book. However, Duma takes place in South Africa instead of Kenya. The cheetahs that starred in the film were South African cheetahs from the Kragga Kamma Game Park of the Eastern Cape province. In November 2011, one of the five adult cheetahs that starred in the film had died from an unusual kidney failure.
  • The Toyota Free State Cheetahs, founded in 1895, is a South African rugby union team that participates in the annual Currie Cup tournament. They have South African cheetah running at high speed as their emblem.
  • The Cheetahs is another South African rugby union team from Bloemfontein founded in 2005 that have a running South African cheetah as their emblem.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit