Updated: May 16, 2022
Acinonyx jubatus, or the African cheetah, is legendary for its incredible hunting speeds - it is the fastest known land animal on Earth. It chases gazelles in dizzying bursts of speed topping over 110 kph (70 mph). You wouldn't stand a chance in your safari vehicle if one of these cats targeted you.
It would be a miracle if you saw the royal king cheetah on your safari, a mutant of the African cheetah. Fewer than 10 have been documented in the wild. You might think it's a different species, but the king cheetah is actually the same exact species. The odd spot pattern and thicker fur are due to a recessive mutation, which likely accounts for their rarity.
As of 2015, fewer than 7000 adult cheetahs currently live in the wild, and that number is likely lower now. Loss of prey and habitat, poor human-wildlife relations, illegal hunting, and more threaten and end cheetah lives across Africa.
These devastating activities may seem to affect only cheetahs, but they in fact threaten the entire savanna. Like the cells in your body, every organism plays a vital role in maintaining the health of its home ecosystem. Wipe out one species, and the rest will soon die, along with the ecosystem as a whole. Gazelles and other animals graze on the grasses of the African savanna. If populations are not kept in check, they will graze the grasses to extinction and cause the lush savanna to turn into a desert. This will in turn cause the animals to die or leave. A desert means a lack of natural resources, and a lack of natural resources means hardship for the people who depend upon the savanna for survival, such as the Maasai.
The cheetah helps prevent the desertification of the savanna and preserve the lives of its inhabitants by hunting the smaller grazing animals. By hunting the weak and old animals, it keeps both animal and grass populations healthy, thereby maintaining the balance of life and ensuring a thriving wilderness for future generations to use and enjoy.
Is the cheetah one of your favorite animals? You don't have to watch hopelessly as careless practices drive them to extinction. You can help raise awareness on your social media, at school or work, or even just among your friends. Many zoos have conservation and breeding programs in place to help cheetah populations thrive - perhaps you can get in touch with them and ask how you can help. There's even an entire organization dedicated to saving wild cheetahs, where you can give to help save the lives of one of Africa's most iconic animals. Your contribution may be small, but it may be all it takes for a few new cubs to come into our beautiful world, from a mother cheetah who would have otherwise died but instead leaves a legacy because of your generosity.
25 facts about the king cheetah: Africa's rarest cat. 25 Facts About the King Cheetah: Africa's Rarest Cat (africafreak.com)
IUCN Red List. Acinonyx jubatus (Cheetah) (iucnredlist.org)
Cheetah Conservation Fund. About Cheetahs • Cheetah Facts • Cheetah Conservation Fund •