Northwest African cheetah

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Northwest African cheetah[1]
A Northwest African cheetah at Termit Massif, Niger.
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Genus: Acinonyx
Species: A. jubatus
Subspecies: A. j. hecki
Trinomial name
Acinonyx jubatus hecki
Hilzheimer, 1913
Acinonyx jubatus subspecies range.png
A. j. hecki range (purple)

Acinonyx jubatus senegalensis
(Blainville, 1843)

The Northwest African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki), also known as the Saharan cheetah, is a cheetah subspecies native to Northwest Africa, particularly in the central western Sahara desert and the Sahel. It is classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. In 2008, the population was suspected to number less than 250 mature individuals.[2] The Northwest African cheetah was described by German zoologist Max Hilzheimer under the scientific name Acinonyx hecki in Senegal of West Africa in 1913.[3]


The Northwest African cheetah was described by Max Hilzheimer under the binomial name Acinonyx hecki in 1913, based upon a living specimen in the Berlin Zoological Garden said to be originally from Senegal. In 1843, the French zoologist Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville described a cheetah from Senegal as Felis jubata senegalensis.[3] However, this name was preoccupied. It is considered synonymous to A. j. hecki as of 1939.[4]

Physical characteristics[edit]

The Northwest African cheetah is quite different in appearance from the other African cheetahs. Its coat is shorter and nearly white in color, with spots that fade from black over the spine to light brown on the legs. The face has few or even no spots, and the tear stripes (dark stripes running from the medial canthus of each eye down the side of the muzzle to the corner of the mouth) are often missing. The body shape is basically the same as that of the sub-Saharan cheetah, except that it is somewhat smaller.[5]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The Northwest African cheetahs ranges around the central and western Sahara desert and the Sahel in small, fragmented populations. The largest of these populations is believed to exist in the Ahaggar highlands of Algeria, but this is based on limited data obtained in 2009 from observatioikns of only four individuals.[6] Most recent records in this area are from Ahaggar National Park, some also from Tassili n'Ajjer. In Niger populations occur in the northern parts of the country in the Ténéré desert and in the southern savanna region of the W National Park. More than 50 cheetahs are thought to live in Algeria, compared to 10 or fewer in Niger. Besides Algeria and Niger, the range is thought to include Togo, Mali, Benin, and Burkina Faso.[2]

Its former range included Morocco and Western Sahara, Senegal, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, where it is presumed extinct today.[2]

Ecology and behavior[edit]

These animals have important physiological and behavioral adaptations that allow it to survive in the extreme conditions of the Sahara desert, where temperatures may reach up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) and there is no standing water. For example, the Northwest African cheetah is even more nocturnal than other cheetahs, which helps it to conserve water and stay out of the daytime heat of the desert. In 2009, scientists from the Zoological Society of London were able to photograph a Northwest African cheetah for the first time, by the use of a nighttime camera trap in the deserts of Algeria.[6] In 2010, a Northwest African cheetah was also photographed in the deserts of the Termit Massif, Niger, using a nighttime camera trap.[7]

Social activity[edit]

These felids are usually solitary and semi-nomadic. Small groups do occur though, usually as mother and cubs or male coalitions, which usually have only a very small range. Female territories are located in areas of high prey base, which therefore determine male territories.

Hunting and diet[edit]

The main prey of the Northwest African cheetah are antelopes which have adapted to an arid environment, such as the addax, Dorcas gazelle, rhim gazelle, and dama gazelle. It may also take smaller animals such as hares. These cheetahs can subsist without direct access to water, obtaining water indirectly from the blood of their prey.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 533. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ a b c d Belbachir, F. (2008). "Acinonyx jubatus ssp. hecki". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  3. ^ a b Allen, G. M. (1939). "Acinonyx Brookes. Cheetahs". A Checklist of African Mammals. Cambridge: Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College 83. pp. 232–234. 
  4. ^ Rosevear, D.R. (1974). "Acinonyx jubatus (Schreber)". The carnivores of West Africa. London: Natural History Museum. pp. 493–511. 
  5. ^ a b "All Those Spotted Cats Look Alike". Retrieved 2010-12-25. 
  6. ^ a b Rare cheetah caught on camera trap in Sahara. The Telegraph (London). 25 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-25.
  7. ^ 'Ghostly' Saharan cheetah filmed in Niger, Africa. BBC - Earth News. Dec. 23, 2010. Retrieved 23 Dec 2010.