From The Guardian:
A rare ‘spotless’ cheetah has been photographed in Kenya by wildlife photographer Guy Combes, who got within around 50m of the big cat.
Combes, originally from Dorset but now based in California, had heard tale of the spotless leopard and travelled to the Athi Kapiti Conservancy in search of it but gave up after days of fruitless searching.
“I didn’t think it likely that we would find the cheetah and went back to Nairobi. I then got a call saying it had been seen again so I spent another two days searching,” he said. Eventually he spotted the animal.
“I was really excited as we managed to get about 50 yards away. It was was a staggeringly beautiful animal. I didn’t expect to see it at all, the area we were going to search was 100,000 acres without borders and he could have easily been beyond that.”
John Pullen, curator of mammals at Marwell Wildlife in Hampshire, who has examined the photographs, described the sighting as “quite rare”. He said: “There are some spots still evident over the back area but most are missing. The spots or markings on all wild cats are in fact the skin colour and the hair growing from that part of the skin takes on the colouration, so if you shaved off the hair the pattern would be the same. This is really like a rare skin issue where something has happened to the genetic coding that would give the normal pattern.”
The cheetah is not spotless after all.
It just has far fewer spots than a n0rmal one!
Cheetahs come in three distinct morphs.
This spotless variety is not often seen. I’ve only read about them, and I assumed they were either urban legends or the result of the hit or miss captive breeding programs that existed for coursing cheetahs in India.
In addition to the spotted and spotless cheetahs, there are also king cheetahs, which are beautifully marbled.
For decades, king cheetahs were thought to be distinct species. Then some were born to normal spotted cheetah parents. Two spotted queens mated with a wild spotted tom, and in both litters, there was a king cheetah kitten.
As inbred as cheetahs are, it is amazing how rare color morphs actually are. Nature had to have selected very strongly against unusual colors with cheetahs. A poorly colored cheetah might as well be one born with a severe birth defect. Cheetahs do need camouflage to stalk their prey, and although they don’t have to get as close to their prey as lions or leopards do, they need to be close enough that they can run it down before they exhaust themselves. Cheetahs are the fastest land animals, but they are sprinters. Even though they do have a lot of canine adaptations for running–like claws that don’t retract for use as running cleats– they aren’t designed to run down prey over great distances in the same way as African wild dogs or wolves.
Cheetahs are just weird animals all around.
They are the only representatives of the cougar lineage in the Old World. Indeed, one could make the case that cheetahs should join both jaguarundis and cougars in the genus Puma.
Male cheetahs hunt in groups, while females are solitary.
And because cheetahs are capable of cooperative hunting, they were used as super coursing “dogs” in different parts of their range.
In India, where cheetahs are currently extinct, they were regularly used to bring down blackbuck.
If they had been easier to breed in captivity, they might have very well become a domestic animal.
And then, sight hounds– the closest thing to a domestic cheetah– would have become useless.
Traditional accounts suggest that no one was able to breed cheetahs in captivity until relatively recently.
But it is possible that the odd one could have been bred in those coursing cheetah breeding programs.
It is also possible– and much more likely– that if any unusually colored cheetah kittens were discovered, they would have been captured and sold to a cheetah coursing enthusiast.