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Rare holiday treat as elusive cheetah makes an appearance

By Paromita Pain - 28 Dec 2010 10:57:0 GMT
Rare holiday treat as elusive cheetah makes an appearance

Santa, for the Sahara Conservation Fund secret cameras, came in the form of the highly elusive Saharan cheetah, this December. This cheetah, pale and lean in appearance, is found inthe vast desert of Termit and Tin Toumma in Niger, Africa. They are so rare that scientists' peg their numbers to be at just 10 roaming the forest plains of the Niger.

Listed as a critically endangered on the 2009 IUCN (IUCN stands for International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, they are found in the areas of Algeria, Togo, Niger, Mali, Benin, and Burkina Faso. There are perhaps only 250 of these animals left in the entire world.

John Newby, CEO of the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) and Thomas Rabeil, also a part of the SCF, was the group that set up the secret cameras to capture the images. Though conservationists have been working in the area for years this cheetah has been spotted only thrice.

Clues to survival

While its pug marks have often been seen thus proving that the animal does indeed live around the area, it's a matter of good judgment and great luck that the placed cameras could get the images. These pictures are expected to add to existing knowledge about these mysterious cats. These shy animals need more concentrated conservation efforts.

The Saharan cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki) is an important aspect of maintaining natural genetic and biological diversity, though how this cheetah is genetically related to other cheetahs needs further research. Their colour and spot patterns are different from the patterns found in other parts of Africa.

These animals have adapted and finely honed survival skills in extreme weather conditions like the desert forests of the Niger. Temperatures here can rise to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius). They have no easy access to water and it is believed that they can get by on the blood of their prey. These animals don't venture out in the day and it's believed this is because they conserve energy by preventing exposure to the sun. Their nocturnal habits are an energy preservation tactic.