The King Cheetah

King Cheetahs are a color variation of the normal spotted cheetahs caused by a recessive gene. Both parents must carry the recessive gene to produce a king cheetahs. Genetics are complicated so I am not going any deeper than that!

The King cheetah has blotches and stripes compared to the normal spotted cheetah. Because of the coloration they look larger but are basically same size and weight as the normal cheetah. The pattern on the coat of each King varies. No one animal is similar.

There are many examples of color variations among many animals the most well know being white lions and white tigers; they are not albinos but true distinctions. The King Cheetah is not as common due to its limited area and there are probably a few carriers of the gene out there but due to their large ranges and limited numbers very seldom meet up

Cheetahs that carry the recessive gene appear only to occur in a certain area of Southern Africa.  Along the borders of Botswana and South Africa, Zimbabwe and into the Kruger Park in South Africa

Possible range of the King Cheetah

The first recorded sighting of a King was in 1926, which was shot by a Major Cooper of the British army. At that time unknown specimens were shot and sent to the British museum in London for identification. This specimen was thought to be a cross between a Leopard and a Cheetah. After deeper examination it was classified as a cheetah because of all the characteristics. But it was said to be a different species and named a King Cheetah or Acinonyx rex.

Very few species were seen in the wild although they appeared to be fairly numerous around a town in Zimbabwe called Mazoe. Here the cheetah was known as the Mazoe Leopard. One of the last sightings of a King was in Kruger Park over 30 years ago.

The King is now being bred in captivity. The first facility to breed them was the de Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Center in South Africa in 1981. This was also very ironic as Ann van Dyk the founder of de Wildt had been asked by the Pretoria Zoo not to breed that year. Ann was working in conjunction with the zoo and as she had bred quite a few cubs the previous year the zoo was worried about having a surplus.

But nobody told the cheetahs that! The two young females climbed out of their enclosure and made their way down to an old male that was not used much. They climbed into his enclosure and eventually he mated with both. Ann had to accept this but sold one of the pregnant sisters to Seaview Reserve in the Eastern Cape.

Eventually both females gave birth. When Ann had a quick look a few days after birth she could not believe her eyes. Meanwhile Seaview had also noticed a different cub in the litter their female had given birth to. Both females had produced a King cub, one male and one female in each litter. The first Kings ever born in captivity.

Breeding Kings is not a quick process. A king is mated with a normal spotted female. The cubs born are all normal coats but carry the recessive king gene.  Later these cubs can be bred with other cubs from different King mating’s There is now the chance that these carriers will produce a king cub

It is only recently that Dr Stephen O’Brien discovered the gene causing the color mutation. Similar to a gene found in your house tabby cat!

King cheetahs have now been born in various facilities around the world. Sydney Zoo’s Western plains, Japan and the Middle East. King Cheetahs have been used as ambassador animals; Miami Metro zoo had a very famous cheetah called King George. He was a huge attraction at the zoo and traveled the USA with the Communications Director Ron Magill. They did many television shows and promoted conservation, not only of cheetahs but many other species.

The King Cheetah will only survive as long as his brothers and sisters in the wild can. With the latest census of only 7500 cheetahs left in the wild. Not only the normal spotted cheetahs’ gene pool is diminishing but also that of the King.

The King Cheetah

 

Why are Cheetahs Endangered ?

Why are cheetahs endangered? Cheetahs are classified as Vulnerable but are likely to move into the Endangered classification very soon.

There are six classifications. Each has different criteria such as population size, geographic range and extinction possibility

The classifications are:

Least concern, which means the species are still abundant

Vulnerable: this means there is a big population decline in the wild and the possibility of extinction within the next 50 years

Endangered: the population decline is over 50%, their habitat is shrinking and they are losing numbers due to different threats, Such as poaching, lack of space, killed by humans

Critically endangered: A population decline of over 80%. A very reduced population that might not be sustainable for breeding and the possibility of extinction in 10 years

Extinct in Wild: Species only left in captivity

Extinct: None of the species surviving

Cheetahs are endangered as the last census estimated only 7,500 animals left in only 10% of their previous geographical range. This is due to loss of habitat due to the increase of farmlands taking over their areas. New roads, new towns, new industry. With the loss of habitat means loss of prey species. So sometimes the cheetahs will take farm livestock, such as sheep, goats or young cattle.

This makes them enemies of many farmers who will shoot them on site.  Even although the cheetah may only be passing through these lands. Cheetahs have large home ranges, over 500 to 1500 square kilometers and travel long distances. But as they are diurnal and travel during the morning and evening, farmers are more likely to see the cheetahs. The uninformed farmer will shoot them immediately as a pre-emptive measure.

One method informed farmers are using to protect their livestock is by using guard dogs such as Anatolian Shepherd dogs. These dogs remain with their flock and protect them from attacks by predators. The cheetah then has to revert back to wild prey.  But with the decline in these numbers the cheetah sits with a predicament.

Poaching is a small problem but still a problem. The cheetah is killed for its skin. Although protected and the skins not allowed into many countries these skins are still sold on the black market.

Cheetahs do not do well in protected areas as they can become prey to Lions and Hyenas. These two species will kill young animals not able to travel with their mother or take the prey killed by cheetahs. Sometimes killing the adult cheetah. Thus the cheetahs more than likely use unprotected areas and coming into contact with farmers. A cruel cycle.

1900 Estimate Range and Number: 100,000
1900 range and numbers of cheetahs
2017 Range and Numbers : 7,500
2017 Range and numbers of cheetahs
Possible Extinction by 2027?
Possible extinction by 2017

Are we too late to save an animal that has taken 4 million years to reach its present form.  We can blame its decline on many things but man is ultimately the problem and the solution.

 

What Speed does a Cheetah Run?

A question I get often, how fast can a cheetah run?

The cheetah is built for speed, long lean body, small head, long legs. But they are sprinters and not long distance runners such as Painted dogs

A full grown adult cheetah running at full speed, can reach up to 115km per hour (over 70mph). They can do this for only about 400 meters, then are too exhausted to carry on and have to rest, even if they have caught their prey.

One stride is eight meters (26 feet). They can cover 25 meters ( 82 feet) in 1 SECOND!!!  This actually makes them fly over the ground in the chase. This means they cover 100 meters in less than 5 seconds. Faster than any man or animal.

They can accelerate faster than any sports car, 0 – 100kph in 2.5 seconds. A golden blur of pure muscle and co-ordination.

The tail is very important at high speeds as it is used as a rudder. Not round but oval and heavy and used for balance. It can move 20 times per second, small movements to maintain balance when turning.

The spine is long and supple bending the hind legs inwards, outside and overlapping the front legs to propel them forward.

The heart is bigger for more oxygen hence more energy

The nostrils are also bigger for more air intake, again allowing more oxygen into the blood.

Their claws are permanently out, like a dog. These claws enable the cheetah a better grip, just as a sprinter uses spiked running shoes. They have one very sharp claw, the dew claw which is used when catching their prey. This claw is further up the leg and is always sharp and bent like a hook for grabbing

Next time you are in a car, check your speedometer at 100kph (70mph). That is a cheetah running speed, almost into top gear.

Cheetah at full speed
Low flying

Canned Lion Hunting

There is a growing concern about the lion industry in South Africa. And quite rightly so. There are about 20,000 lions left in the wild, in South Africa there are about 7,000 lions in captivity. In the province I live in, North West, there are over 130 registered lion farms. Over 20 of them registered as hunting farms. The lions hunted on these farms are mainly captive bred.

What makes a hunter go out and shoot an animal that has been born in captivity, knows nothing of living free?

When the South African government brought out the new TOPS regulations a few years back they had a road show to present the new laws. I went to the one in Pretoria where it was very civilised, valid questions on how to go about permits, break for tea and cookies. Back to the question and answer. I understood how the system was going to work.

I was then invited to go to another one in the far west, lion breeder country, by one of the conservation officials. I said I had been but she was insistent I go as I would be the only cheetah breeder. I was reluctant, these lion farmers are tough. But drove the 3 hours down to the farm where the meeting was being held. The farmer was a breeder, no hunting on his farm, he was the supplier. The room we had the meeting was like the Natural history museum. If you could think of any animal, it was there, stuffed and mounted, from budgerigars to bush pigs,

There were about 30 farmers and the two officials giving the road show brought along one of the ministers from the Province as back up. After three hours of non stop arguments we took a break for strong coffee, beer if you wanted and rusks. Then back to the battle. It was war. Eventually we took another break and the host said to me, “Tell that auntie you are working for I need a couple of cheetahs for a hunter that’s coming in.” I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or not.

As I had a long drive back I excused myself and left very grateful I was not any of the conservation officials. They were having a very difficult time.

The Government implemented the laws, which for lion farmers meant a lion born in captivity must be released into a free area for two years before being hunted. The lion farmers were in an uproar, immediately gathered a few million Rands together to oppose the law. It went through all the courts to the very highest and they won. The Government had to change the law and I believe, could be wrong but not far off it, a lion must be kept for TWO days (some say 4) in a free/wild area before being hunted!

The hunter is brought in, obtains his permit, is driven round and round in circles in the fenced off area until suddenly he spots his lion. And with a very big gun, shoots it!

Canned hunting at its best.

Now the Government is going to allow lion bones to be exported to Asia as they have run out of tiger bones.

When all these animals are gone there is going to be a big hole in our soul. Unfortunately no matter how many people and organisations are trying to stop canned hunting it goes on, powered by big money. Can we stop it? I have no answer.

Global march for lions
Global march for lions

Too Late to Educate? The possible answer is yes!

Over the years of working with captive wildlife i have always believed that captive breeding of endangered species was the way to save the species. Then I changed my mind and realized that education was the number one priority. If people didn’t know what was happening how could they help?

But I have changed my mind again after reading this article;

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/27/cheetahs-facing-extinction-amid-dramatic-decline-numbers/

Cheetah numbers are down to just over 7000 worldwide, a huge drop from the 12,500 I quoted in one of my posts. Zimbabwe has dropped from over a thousand cheetahs to around 150!!

Now if this is with all the research and observations going on by a large number of organizations then what happened? Where has that knowledge gone? I know cheetahs are difficult to count in a census because of their huge ranges but today’s figure has caused shock-waves around the animal world.

This is now where I go back to my original thoughts – Captive Breeding. Not an easy thing to do with any animal, very costly as new facilities would have to be built for various species. And they would have to be built to represent their own homeland.

The next BIG step would have to be a Global Co-operation within zoos and animal facilities. This, to me, is one of the biggest and hardest steps to take. I have been to many Global conferences where everyone gets all excited about working with each other and very little happens. I am talking mostly about cheetahs here.

So all you Zoos and animal exhibitors out there, who is going to take the first steps? Who can begin to look at priorities? It is going to take a very strong person to lead but someone has to step up somewhere.

The IUCN has a Captive Breeding Specialist group, can they step forward and lead the way, extend their programs?

I would be interested to hear back from anyone with ideas.

Me with 2 captive breeding males
Me with 2 captive breeding males

 

Too late to educate??

The world’s population is now over 7 billion people! Africa has 1.2 billion, ranking it second on the list of people per square kilometer, 4.1.

Big beautiful Africa
Big beautiful Africa

But Africa still remains the “Dark Continent” So little is known about what goes on in Africa in the “civilized world”!!

I have been working with Wildlife over 45 years, over 35 with Cheetahs. If you had asked me ten years ago what would be the way to save cheetahs from extinction, I would have replied, through captive breeding. Over the many years I have been working with cheetahs I have been fortunate to have bred quite a few and know that in captivity they can be bred. Although a difficult animal to breed, it can be done with patience and knowledge. Zoos and facilities around the world are now having more success than previously and with more global cooperation cheetahs could be bred in captivity for release into areas where they once roamed.

Cheetah breeding, or trying to!
Cheetah breeding, or trying to!

Cheetah numbers have dropped drastically (see my earlier graph), The reasons are many, loss of habitat, poaching, indiscriminate killing, illegal removing from the wild for sale. But we have enough cheetahs in captivity throughout the world to be able to sustain a viable population. BUT, and this is a very big BUT, this would mean a cooperation worldwide which would take a huge amount of management. That is another topic which could go on forever so to get back to the present.

I changed my mind about how to save cheetahs a few years ago on a trip to Europe. Linda, my wife, is Swedish and we would make trips to Sweden and Scotland to see family and also give a few presentations at schools and zoos on cheetahs. The lack of knowledge about cheetahs in the wild was amazing. There was genuine disbelief in our audiences when we gave them facts and figures about cheetah specifically and other wildlife in general.

Here were highly educated, affluent people who had not the faintest clue of what is happening in Africa, and to tell the truth many were not really interested in what happens to the Continent but were concerned about the fate of many of the animals. The biggest area of knowledge was about Rhinos, they have good PR, sending out the message of their decline. Elephants they knew were being poached but not at the scale of it. 90 a day, impressive figures!! That they did not know. Cheetahs they knew nothing about. Even when we gave talks to the general public in Zoos people were astonished at what we told them of their possible extinction.

Sharing Knowledge
Sharing Knowledge

The most common question asked when we spoke about breeding and how successful we had been was, “So where do you put the cubs?” A very valid question but obviously someone with no knowledge about cheetahs or South Africa. Firstly there is very little space to introduce cheetahs left in South Africa, what was happening that the wild population was being protected first, and relocated if absolutely necessary. Cheetah don’t do well in Reserves where there are other predators, Lions, Hyenas, so the majority live outside protected areas. Which leaves them open to being shot by farmers.

So the cubs are sent to zoos and breeding facilities, hopefully only recognized places where they know about cheetahs. Which brings us back to my change of mind. Education, followed closely by captive breeding, is the future for cheetahs. Let the public know what is happening, what can be done, what they can do. Cheetahs living in Zoos can be, and are used, as ambassadors for wildlife. Cheetahs can be hand raised and remain manageable. Allowing educators to use them. A living animal is a hundred times better to bring home a message than a picture or video. I have had first hand experience of this when we used to take a cheetah to rural schools in South Africa. A ten minute video kept the kids attention for a while but when we brought the cheetah into the classroom, attention was 110%. Children, who had almost never seen a wild animal before, were immediately transformed from being afraid to willing to learn more about how to conserve their heritage.

Alan and his girls
Alan and his girls

It can be the same with zoos, Educate. Let people know what is happening to their heritage, wild animals belong to the world. Without them we would be a lot poorer. By teaching conservation, by introducing young people to conservation, can be a way that many will grow up with a determination to do something constructive. If we still have the time!

BUT, and there are lots of buts here, there is a growing movement about breeding predators in captivity. Mainly caused by the lion farms in South Africa and canned hunting. There are more lions in captivity in South Africa than the wild, because it is very profitable for these farms to legally offer a lion to be hunted. The law allows for a captive bred lion to be shot after 2 days in a “wild area”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Money, money, money. But what has happened is many of those who want to stop canned lion hunting, and that includes me, also want to stop the breeding of other predators and that includes cheetahs. Which I think is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard of. With cheetahs we have a chance to repopulated areas again, reserves where they do not have to compete with other predators. And in such reserves cheetah breed well, all it needs is management because a reserve is really just a very big zoo. It would also mean a lot of money and time, knowledge on how to release. It can and has been done with 2 papers being written up by Honours students. The problem is how do we get people interested in financing and managing such a project. Zoos can educate, through their captive animals and raise awareness and funds

Which comes back once more to education, even those advocating not breeding predators have not done enough homework to justify these actions. They need educating too. I was attacked through Facebook and email by, what I thought at the time was a reputable organisation, for a picture of me carrying a cheetah cub. By the scruff, as the mother does, and by the base of the tail as it was a fairly large cub. The correct way to carry a cub. This bogus Doctor told me I was abusing the animal, hurting it and why was I breeding cheetahs? At first I thought he was genuine until he started verbally drooling at the mouth and his followers from Facebook were sending bad emails. I eventually “Googled” him and found he and his organisation were a farce, complete fake, living in a little town in England with a very believable website. He had 10 aliases, numerous complaints against him and was raising funds for who knows what.

He had in his own way proved that education works, but his way was not quite the correct way. He proved that with enough effort and bullshit he could convert idiots into bigger idiots, and take their money. BUT what about the real world. We are leaving no space for wildlife, so parks, zoos and reserves are the only options. And if someone disagrees with that tell me which world he/she is living in and I will gladly go and stay there. After 45 years I am tired of fenced in animals but see no other option. The animals I have in my care I have made sure that they have the biggest enclosures possible, provide enrichment, the best food. Not the same as living free but where do they go?

2 captive born cubs
2 captive born cubs

My dream, apart from taking out 75% of the world population, would be to travel the world with as much information as possible and EDUCATE. Let the world know about darkest Africa and the situation happening now before it is too late.

Okay, that’s it, I have come out of the closet, I never, ever would have thought that I would put education first over breeding.

Trust

Trust
Trust

One thing that is needed when working with animals is PATIENCE. Normally I am not a patient person but when it comes to working with Cheetahs I find that they are not the brightest of animals but with patience they will do what you want them to.

Such things as the routine feeding, cleaning their camps, the early morning check, something the cheetahs get used to. One of my favorite times is the early morning check up, walking quietly around all the enclosures, going in to see that the cheetahs are okay. This is a morning routine for the cheetahs as well, when they see me it is normally a stare as they lie in their overnight bushbed as if saying, “when’s lunch?” I, like most animal people talk to my cats, they don’t reply much but by being able to walk around or past them shows a trust in the animal.

My favorite picture is the one above. When we have cubs they, plus their mother, get fed twice a day, A routine everyone soon gets used to. Some mothers are greedy so I have to put 2 dishes in, one for her and the other for the cubs. Over time this regular pattern leads to a trust from the mother to let me put the dish closer to the cubs, they get used to the routine then something like the above picture happens.

I was patiently waiting for them all to finish, just sitting inside their enclosure when one of the cubs walked up to me. I put out my hand and the cub reached out to touch me. It was an amazing feeling, especially as the mother was watching the whole thing. Acceptance and trust.