Northwest African cheetah
|Northwest African cheetah|
|A cheetah at Termit Massif, Niger|
A. j. hecki
|Acinonyx jubatus hecki|
|A. j. hecki range historical today|
A. j. senegalensis (Blainville, 1843)
The Northwest African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki), also known as the Saharan cheetah, is a cheetah subspecies native to the Sahara desert and the Sahel. It is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In 2008, the population was suspected to number less than 250 mature individuals.
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 that originated in Senegal. In 1843, the French zoologist Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville described a cheetah from Senegal as Felis jubata senegalensis. As this name was preoccupied, it is considered synonymous with A. j. hecki.
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.
Distribution and habitat
The Saharan cheetah ranges in the western and central Sahara desert and the Sahel in small, fragmented populations. Between August 2008 and November 2010, four individuals were recorded by camera traps in Ahaggar Cultural Park located in south central Algeria. Based on data from 2007 to 2012, the cheetah population in West, Central and North Africa has been estimated at 457 individuals in an area of 1,037,322 km2 (400,512 sq mi), including 238 cheetahs in Central African Republic and Chad, 191 cheetahs in Algeria and Mali, and 25 cheetahs in the transboundary W, Arli, and Pendjari protected area complex in Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. In Niger, populations occur in the northern parts of the country in the Ténéré desert and in the southern savanna region of W National Park. Records in Togo date to the 1970s. The Saharan cheetah is thought to be regionally extinct in Morocco, Western Sahara, Senegal, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.
Ecology and behavior
The cheetah exhibits important physiological and behavioral adaptations that allow it to survive in the extreme conditions of the Sahara desert, where temperatures reach up to 45 °C (113 °F), and where 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.
The cheetah is 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
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 also preys on smaller mammals such as hares. Cheetahs can subsist without direct access to water, obtaining water indirectly from the blood of their prey.
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