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
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.