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International Cheetah Day, Is Climate Crisis Killing It?

Cheetahs are found in Africa and Iran
Cheetahs are found in Africa and Iran

Did you know Cheetah is the fastest mammal on the planet? Sound likes a pretty common fact. But do you know why today is celebrated as International Cheetah Day? If not, then today is your lucky day, as today I will tell you all you need to know about it.

Khayam and Dr Laurie Marker

Khayam and Dr. Laurie
Khayam and Dr. Laurie. Image courtesy: Planet Expert

Dr Laurie Marker is an American zoologist who established the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) back in 1991. In 2010, she designated 4th December as International Cheetah Day in remembrance of a cheetah cub named Khayam. She raised Khayam at the Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon.

In the late 1970s, the first research project for cheetahs began. Khayam was a cheetah who was trained at that time. The aim of the research was to determine if those cheetahs who were born captive could be taught to hunt. In 1977, Dr Marker took Khayam to Namibia for the project. Dr Marker realized that the Cheetahs were facing threats from the local human population who were killing them to protect their livestock. She then launched CCF and shifted to Namibia to solve this problem. Dr Marker dedicated her life to this. 4th December was selected since it was Khayam's birthday.

About Cheetah

The Cheetah (Acinonyx Jubatus) is native to Africa and central Iran. They are the fastest land animal and can run as fast as 80-128 km/h (50-80 mph). The adults typically weigh between 20-65 kgs (44-143 lbs). Cheetahs are more social than the rest of their relatives and have mainly 3 social groups. The females and their cubs, male alliances, and solitary males. The females wander around looking for prey in large areas, whereas the males are more inactive, and stay in much smaller territories. They breed throughout the year, with a gestation period of 3 months. 3 to 5 cubs are born at a time, and these cubs are extremely vulnerable to predation by other wild animals like lions. The cubs become independent by the time they are 20 months old. Cheetahs live in several habitats, like savannahs in Serengeti, mountains in Sahara, and deserts in Iran.

First Population Bottleneck

The 1st bottleneck even may have happened around 100,000 years ago. Cheetahs had already expanded their regions into Asia, Africa, and Europe. The 2nd event occurred around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago when the ice age was ending. This event wiped out the cheetah of North America and Europe. Only the cheetah in Asia and Africa were left. Since a large population was killed, extreme inbreeding started taking place. This reduced the genetic variability of the remaining population. During the 19th century, 100,000 cheetahs were left.

A scientific way to check the level of inbreeding is to transplant a piece of skin from one cheetah to another cheetah to see if the other cheetah accepts or rejects that tissue. If they are inbred, the cheetah will easily accept that skin. This shows low genetic diversity.

The threat to Cheetah Population

Cheetahs are facing a terrible threat of extinction. Humans are the main reason for that. Humans are violating their habitats, hunting cheetahs, and not to forget, causing Climate Change. Some experts also say that cheetahs are suffering from an infectious disease that is spread by domestic cats. Not to forget, their genetic variability is very low, which causes a low reproductive success rate.

The Cheetah population is now located in smaller areas in central Iran, and southern and eastern and northwestern Africa. Today, there are fewer than 8000 African cheetahs and less than 50 Asian cheetahs. They are on the IUCN Red List of Vulnerable animals. Read about IUCN Red List here-

Cool Facts About Cheetah

  1. Although Cheetahs are currently found in Africa and Iran, they are believed to have originated from America. They migrated to Asia 100,000 years ago.

  2. World's fastest land animal. They can run as fast as 80-128 km/h (50-80 mph). They can reach a speed of 112km/h in just 3 seconds!

  3. The black tear patch on either side of the cheetah's nose protects its eyes from the sun, cool sunglasses, isn't it?

  4. While running, the cheetah uses its tail for steering.

  5. Since the sprints take place at such a high speed, it consumes a lot of energy, hence a typical chase lasts up to 300m and less than a minute in time.

The black patch is for sun-protection
The black patch is for sun-protection

You can do a virtual adoption of a cheetah and help WWF save this endangered species. Here is the adoption link-

Figures: NatGeo

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