Sunday 2 October 2011

Rare King Cheetah

Rare King Cheetah - photo copyright Fred Hood.

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The rare king cheetah sports one of three anomalous coat patterns and colors. The others are the melanistic cheetah (black with ghost spots) and the white cheetah. Both black and white cheetahs have been recorded. They too are rare.

The king cheetah is found in South Africa. Apparently way back in 1926 a farmer in southern Rhodesia, now the Republic of Zimbabwe purchased a cheetah skin that had an unusual pattern of stripes and blotches rather then the spots. The farmer donated the skin to the museum in Salisbury.

It was initially believed that the skin had belonged to a hybrid cheetah - a mating of a cheetah and leopard. The skin was sent to the British Museum in London, England to be examined by R.I. Pocock. He described it as a separate species, scientific name: Acinonyx rex.

However it has been subsequently decided that the king cheetah is simply a "normal" cheetah with a different coat. The king cheetah is not a subspecies of cheetah.

The unusual coat is the result of the presence of a single recessive gene. Accordingly if both parents carry the gene, one quarter of their offspring will be king cheetahs.

It is believed that the same process of genetic mutation that converts a mackerel tabby domestic cat to a classic or blotched tabby is at play in the cheetah.

In the wild, the king cheetah is found in:
  • Zimbabwe
  • Botswana
  • Transvaal
They were almost never seen in captivity until 1980. Now, you can see them at the De Wilt Cheetah Breeding and Research Center near Pretoria and around the world. There were 9 there in 1984.

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