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Posts Tagged ‘Asiatic cheetah’

cheetah

India’s supreme court is now seeing an interesting case in which taxonomy and endangered species politics converge to have real world consequences. The question is whether African cheetahs can replace Asiatic cheetahs on India’s plains.

Yes, for there were once cheetahs in India. Their traditional quarry was the blackbuck antelope, and many nobles in India kept cheetahs or “hunting leopards,” as the British colonizers called them, for coursing blackbuck.

Cheetahs were not just found in India.  They ranged throughout the Middle East up into the Caucasus and Central Asia. In the wild, this lineage of cheetah is found only in Iran, where they exist in only relict numbers.  In Iran, the situation is made even more complicated with an international human rights scandal in which several cheetah researchers were imprisoned.  Cheetahs have since been extirpated from all of Asia, except for that tiny Iranian population.

So India, a nation with growing wealth and a growing conservation ethic, cannot turn to Iran to reintroduce its former cheetahs.  With Iran out of the question, some experts have suggested that African cheetahs be used as stand-ins.

And this is where things get interesting. African cheetahs are not exactly like the ones in India. There is a bit of a debate about when the two lineages of cheetah split, with one set of papers and researchers suggesting a very recent split (5,000 years ago) and another suggesting a more ancient one (44,000-47,000 years ago).

40,000 years suggests way too much evolutionary distance between the two cheetah populations for African cheetahs to be equivalent of the Asiatic ones.

But even if we accept this later date, it is still not that much of a divergence. Currently, most experts recognize only a single species of red fox, but Old World and North American red foxes diverged 400,000 years ago.

African cheetahs have evolved to hunt on open plains. Various small antelopes comprise the majority of their diet. They are not ecologically that different from cheetahs that lived on the plains of India.

So they aren’t that genetically distinct from each other, and they aren’t ecologically that different either.

It would make sense to bring African cheetahs to India. Of course, the legal system and the interpretation of statutes often goes against sound conservation policy.

But if cheetahs are ever to return to India, the question is now in the hands of India’s supreme court.

I hope they decide that those from Africa can stand in. They are far from exact, but they are far from ersatz.

 

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pronghorns

Our brains like simple answers. We love to see the cause and then the effect, and we constantly look for them in nature.  At one time, we believed that the appearance of comets in the sky would be harbingers of great doom. And even in the past century in my home state, it has long been claimed that the appearance of Mothman in the area around Pt. Pleasant corresponded with the Silver Bridge collapse.

Correlation does not equal causation. Chanticleer, that old rooster of English Medieval lore, believed that his crowing at dawn made the sun rise.  When two variables occur at the same time but don’t have any causal relationship, they are called stochastic. Stochastic is one of my favorite words from graduate school, and even today when someone posits a bogus relationship between two variables, I say “Those are stochastic variables.”  I get some odd looks, but that was the point.

In trying to understand the complex phenomena that comprise evolution, we are constantly looking for these relationships. Some of them make some good sense and are well-supported with the data. We know that predators are the driving force behind making the prey swift and nimble, and we also know that plant-eating animals are the driving force behind the development of thorns and toxic plants.

But sometimes, our desire to see patterns leads us astray.  One example of what may be an erroneous positing of stochastic variables involves one of North America’s most unusual animals.

If one were to go to Wyoming on a hunting trip, there is a good chance that the outfitter will tell you to buy “antelope tags.”  Tags, of course, are licenses that give permission to the hunter to take a particular species, and in Wyoming, there is great interest in the pursuit of antelope.

But the little secret is there are no antelope in Wyoming. Indeed, the only true antelope in the United States are gemsbok that have been introduced to specific part of New Mexico, and Texas game ranches are full of various species of Old World antelope.

But no true antelope is native to the Americas. The animal we call an “antelope” should be more appropriately called “the pronghorn.”  It is not an antelope at all, but it is the last survivor of a lineage of creatures that are much more closely related to the various giraffe species and the okapi.  The pronghorn and its extinct kin are placed in a superfamily of Artiodactyla called Giraffoidea. These animals have bony processes that stick off their heads. In the giraffe and okapi, these are called ossicones and are covered in hair. In the pronghorn, a sheath of keratin grows over the bone. This sheath is shed every year, which leads to the claim that the pronghorn is the only animal that loses its horns every year.

The animal we call a pronghorn is superficially quite similar to what we would call an antelope or gazelle in the Old World.  But these similarities arose through parallel evolution. Both gazelles and pronghorns evolved in the open land where all sorts of cursorial predators hunted them. Predation forced these animals into swiftness and nimbleness.

That part is not much up for debate.

The problem comes with a specific claim about pronghorns.  One odd feature of this species is its speed. The top speed of an adult pronghorn is 55 mph (88.5 km/h). This speed far exceeds any of its predators that were around in historical times. A pronghorn can smoke a pack of wolves or coyotes and can easily outrun a cougar or a bear.

This high speed has vexed science for quite some time, but there has been an attempt to explain how it could evolved using predation as the driving force.

The hypothesis even points to a specific predator.

At one time the cougar lineage was much more diverse than it is now.  Right now, only three cats still exist in this lineage:  the cougar/mountain lion/puma/catamount/painter/panther (all names for one species), the jaguarundi, and the cheetah of Africa and Iran.

But during the Pleistocene, there were long-limbed cats that superficially resembled the cheetahs of the Old World. They were called “American cheetahs,” but analysis of mitochondrial DNA extracted from their fossils revealed they were much more closely related to cougars. Indeed, they were more closely related to cougars than cougars are to jaguarundi, which complicates the whole move to place jaguarundis in the same genus as the cougar. The two extinct American cheetahs are currently classified in the genus Miracinonyx, while the cougar is in Puma and the jaguarundi is in Herpailurus. Because these two American “cheetahs” are closer to the cougar, placing the jaguarundi in Puma creates a paraphyletic genus. This problem could all be solved if we just placed the two American “cheetahs” into Puma, but not everyone agrees with the mitochondrial DNA assessment of their phylogeny.

Let’s just say that the current pronghorn species lived at the same time as these lithe cougars, and it has been suggested that these cheetahs are the driving force behind the evolution of the extreme speed. The person who came up with this suggestion was a pronghorn expert named John Byers. Byers does not claim that these “cheetahs” were the sole force behind the development of speed in pronghorns. Instead, he lists them among a whole guild of running predators that could have placed selection pressures on pronghorns to force them into the evolution of speed.

The claim that these “cheetahs” were the driving force behind pronghorn speed has been picked up on the popular press though. Wildlife writer Dan Flores even made this claim recently on the Joe Rogan Podcast, and one can find countless pieces on the internet (including this blog when I was a lot more naive) that the extinct North American cheetahs are the “but for” cause of the pronghorn’s fleetness.

The problem with this claim is that it leaves out the nuance of the original hypothesis, and what we’re left with is a sort of cartoon version of evolution.

On the blog Laelaps, a great amount of skepticism is leveled at this hypothesis, largely because the popular understanding of how North American cheetahs might have affected pronghorn evolution.

One problem is that no one really knows how the two species of North America cheetah lived:

We don’t know very much about the natural history of either Miracinonyx species. Their skeletons are cheetah-ish, but that’s not nearly enough to pin these carnivores as the inspiration for artiodactyl agility. In fact, the ecological context of Miracinonyx bones hints that these cats were not simply speedy specialists who prowled open grasslands.

In their 1990 study, Van Valkenburgh and collaborators noted that later Miracinonyx bones have been found from Nebraska to Pennsylvania and Florida in deposits which accumulated under varying conditions. These cats were apparently just as at home among coastal savannahs as mountain stream valleys. More recently, at the 2010 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting, John-Paul Hodnett and coauthors presented a poster about Miracinonyx that frequented caves in prehistoric Grand Canyon, Arizona. There was a distinct lack of fast-running, open-savannah prey animals during the same time period – the researchers noted that the extinct mountain goat Oreamos harringtoni was the most common possibly prey animal in the area. Rather than speeding over the grasslands, Hodnett and colleagues reported, the Grand Canyon Miracinonyx may have lived like snow leopards, bounding down sheer rock faces in pursuit of mountain goats.

This isn’t to say that Miracinonyx never bolted after equally-swift prey. It’s only to point out that we don’t know much about the cat’s ecology, feeding habits, or hunting strategy. There are a few ways we could find out a bit more, though.

Coprolites attributable to Miracinonyx might contain identifiable bone fragments of the cat’s prey. And while such a find is a longshot, perhaps a trackway made by a Miracinonyx running or launching itself into pursuit could tell us about how these cats actually moved. Both lines of evidence suffer from the complexities of accurately attributing a particular trace fossil to a trace-maker, though. Another route may be to compare the isotopic clues in the teeth of Miracinonyx to those of their potential prey, as was recently done for two sabercats and a bear dog found in Spain. By ascertaining where herbivores were feeding, and how geochemical signatures of prey became locked in carnivore teeth, paleontologists could narrow down the preferred habitats and prey of Miracinonyx. Furthermore, a poster presented by Natalia Kennedy and coauthors at the 2012 SVP meeting outlined a new attempt to compare the spine of the modern cheetah to that of Miracinonyx and other extinct cats to see how skeletal anatomy influenced flexibility and lifestyle.

Miracinonyx might have been the reason for the swiftness of pronghorn. False cheetahs and archaic pronghorn overlapped in time, if not habitat, for as much as three million years. But saying Miracinonyx was certainly a speed demon that gave pronghorn a reason to run is only supported by the barest amount of evidence. If we’re going to understand the evolution and natural history of these animals, we must first untangle their histories and the specific details of their ecology. The Just-So story of how the pronghorn got its speed has yet to be tested by the evidence which resides in the fossil record.

So we really don’t know enough about the extinct North American “cheetahs” at all, and we certainly don’t know enough to make claims that they were the driving force behind the evolution of speed in pronghorns.

Further, if one reads Byers’s text on these predators, he does say that these cheetahs were “the principal agents of selection” behind the pronghorn’s speed, but the author does point out that things like dholes, wolves, and various species of Borophaginae could have been part of the mix as well.

Pronghorn don’t just have speed. They have endurance.  Endurance is one way that Old World antelope elude the speed of cheetahs, but the main way they elude them is through agile running maneuvers. Pronghorn are fast, but they don’t have the quick turns of a Thomson’s or dorcas gazelle.

If these North American “cheetahs” ran down their prey in the same way the Old World true cheetahs do, then one would expect the pronghorn to have evolved some of these tricks.

Instead, pronghorn are running machines. They can take off and go and go and go. An animal that evolved to do such a thing likely didn’t evolve to outpace a sprinting cheetah. It likely evolved to outrun endurance runners.

Dholes are known in North America’s fossil record largely from Beringia, but we do have remains of dholes from Mexico. So their distribution in North America was probably more extensive than we might have assumed, but their fossil record is still quite spotty. Dholes run down their prey in long endurance chases, and dhole predation could have been a pretty strong selection pressure on pronghorns to make them fast endurance runners.

But another species could have also provided this pressure, and its presence in North America is well-established. What’s more, it lived in roughly the same areas where pronghorn were common.

This animal was North America’s only hyena, Chasmaporthetes ossifragus. These hyenas were far less like the modern bone-crushing species of hyena. Indeed, they were quite dog-like and are part of a grouping of hyenas that were called “dog-like hyenas.” The only dog-like hyena still in existence is the aardwolf,  which eats almost nothing but termites.  Its extinct relatives, though, were pretty adept predators of ungulates. They are thought to have run down their prey in much the same way dholes and African wild dogs do today.

So it seems that the pronghorn’s speed and endurance are much more likely to have evolved in response to predation from these long-distance running predators.

Further, we really don’t know how early North American wolves hunted their quarry.  Edward’s wolf and Armbruster’s wolf were both pretty common in North America until 300,000 years ago. They may have also hunted in much the same way dholes and African wild dogs do.  We don’t know enough about their natural history either, so we can only speculate.

The truth is we really don’t know why pronghorns are so fast.  It is possible that the North American “cheetahs” were the principal driving force behind the pronghorn’s speed. It is possible, but the evidence still is wanting. Further, there are more likely candidates that should be explored as having some influence on evolution pronghorn predation avoidance behavior.

So it is possible, but right now, it looks like we have two stochastic variables. We need much more evidence for a causal relationship.

And like everything else in evolution, we need to be careful about looking for patterns where they might not exist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Plans to introduce African cheetahs to India have been scrapped.

India’s Supreme Court has just ruled that African cheetahs are too genetically different Asiatic cheetahs to be introduced.

From the BBC:

India’s Supreme Court has directed the government to suspend a move to reintroduce the cheetah, eradicated in India by hunting nearly a century ago.

The court’s decision came after some experts described the plan as “totally misconceived”.

Earlier, the government had approved wildlife groups’ recommendations of two sanctuaries, in Madhya Pradesh and an area in Rajasthan, as potential homes.

The plan was to import the cats from Africa, reports say.

A senior lawyer, PS Narasimha, told the court that the proposal to reintroduce the cheetah had not been discussed with the National Board for Wildlife, a statutory body for the enforcement of wildlife laws in India.

“Scientific studies show that the African cheetahs and Asian cheetahs are completely different, both genetically and also in their characteristics,” he said.

Mr Narasimha told the court that the reintroduction of the cheetah went against the guidelines on translocation of wildlife species laid down by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Asiatic cheetah vanished from India many decades ago, pursued by trophy hunters and herdsmen to the brink of extinction during the Raj.

Conservationists say fewer than 100 of the critically endangered subspecies remain in Iran, roaming the central deserts.

The vast majority of the 10,000 cheetahs left in the world are in Africa.

Critics of the reintroduction scheme in India say that without restoring habitat and prey-bases, and also reducing the chances of man-animal conflict, viable cheetah populations will not flourish.

I agree with the argument that prey must be restored in order to maintain cheetahs and reduce human conflicts.

I do not agree that there is a lot of genetic difference between Asiatic and African cheetah.

There is very little genetic variation in cheetahs at all.

The best genetic evidence shows that Asiatic and African cheetahs aren’t even subspecies.

Stephen O’Brien of Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at the National Cancer Institute contends that the genetic evidence shows that African and Asiatic cheetahs separated only 5,000 years ago.  A 100,000 years of evolution separates the African and Asiatic subspecies of lion, and 169,000 years separates the African and Asian subspecies of leopard. O’Brien, you may recall, was the researcher who lead the study that figured out that there were two species of clouded leopard. He also one of the leading authorities in conservation genetics and using DNA to resolve taxonomic disputes.

But the Indian Supreme Court was not convinced by this genetic evidence.

If cheetahs are to be reintroduced, they must be of the Asiatic “subspecies.”

The problem with that is they are in Iran.

And there are only about 100 of them.

Iran might be persuaded to send some to India, but it would not be prudent.

The proposed Indian cheetah population would need a relatively large number of founders, and taking founders from that very small population would be very harmful to the long-term survival of cheetahs in Iran.

This ruling shows us that these debates about taxonomy are not trivial.

Science may accept nuance and muddling between what we call a species or a subspecies.

The law very often doesn’t.

I’d love to see what the language of India’s version of the ESA states.

The language may be worded in such a way that reintroductions cannot vary much from the original population.

This might make some sense, if you know India’s history with reintroductions.

In the late 70’s, an Indian conservationist named Billy Arjan Singh, who had become famous for rehabilitating leopards and releasing them into the wild, tried his luck with a tigress named Tara. Tara had been born at the Twycross Zoo in India, and Singh raised her to maturity and successfully introduced her into the wilds of Dudhwa National Park.

She was said to have been a Bengal tiger, but like many captive tigers, her pedigree was not known. Amur and Bengal tigers are the main source for captive tigers, and they have often been historically crossbred at menageries and circuses.

Tigers with distinct Amur (“Siberian”) tiger characteristics were discovered.  Their DNA was most similar to Amur tigers.

In India’s parliament there was a great outcry against these cats, and Tara was blamed for introducing Amur tiger genes into this population.

It’s very likely that India’s conservation laws are now so strict to prevent another “pollution” of genes from another “subspecies” that they never will allow cheetahs to return to the country.

It’s really a shame.

But it shows that debates over taxonomy are not meaningless hairsplitting.

The have very real consequences for conservation.

 

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Source.

I have embedded this video before, but I have not provided a good analysis of it.

These cheetahs were captured as adults and then socialized to people– something that is almost impossible to do with feral cats!

And then they are trained to attack the adult male blackbuck, which is the exact opposite of which animals a cheetah would target in the wild. Cheetahs are fast, but unlike leopards and pantherine cats, they don’t have as much brute strength that can be used to pull a large animal down. Instead, cheetahs often try to use one of the forepaws to trip the prey when they advance close enough to it. If the animal is tripped, the cheetah has a chance of running fast enough to get to its neck before it has chance to get up.

When you see these cheetahs grab adult male blackbuck, it is going against what it normally would do, for it is obvious that a cheetah has a very hard time bringing down such powerful prey.  Their canine teeth aren’t as large as those of other cats, so  it takes them several minutes to kill their prey. If the prey is big and healthy, it could easily injure the cheetah as it is making its killing bite.

The cheetahs have to have a certain amount of trust that their handlers will advance upon the downed blackbuck and kill it. Otherwise, it would be very likely that the downed blackbuck could injure the cheetah in its death throes.

The cheetahs are rewarded with food. They are given a ladle of blood if they are needed for more coursing, but if their day is over, they are given a portion of the kill. One does not see any compulsory training or harsh handling of the cheetahs in this film. The animals appear to be bonded to their handlers, and they are working cooperatively.

And this does have some basis in the natural world.

Male cheetahs often band together to take larger prey than they would be able to kill as individuals. The females hunt on their own, which sounds pretty weird. A female cheetah with young would have a greater need for lots of fresh meat that could more easily be procured through cooperative hunting, but they simply don’t do it.

So cheetahs do have some amount of cooperative hunting as part of their natural repertoire of behaviors, which is why they could be used as coursing animals.

But then question becomes “Why weren’t cheetahs domesticated?”

They have all the traits that would make a good domestic animal. They are readily tamed and made docile– so docile that they allow hunters to put hoods over their heads while they are holding their prey in their jaws.

But no cheetah courser ever bred enough cheetahs in captivity to maintain a population large enough for any kind of selective breeding. Cheetahs are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity, and modern zoos were not able to produce a live cheetah birth until 1960. People have been trying to breed coursing cheetahs since time of the Ancient Assyrians and Egyptians, and although they might have produced a cub here and there- they were largely unsuccessful in their endeavors.

The Indian nobles were never able to breed cheetahs, even when they devoted great resources to the project. One noble kept a thousand cheetahs, and he tried virtually every technique he could imagine to produce cubs. He failed miserably.

This inability to reproduce has traditionally been blamed upon the fact that cheetahs are quite inbred. It is estimated that their worldwide population was reduced to 7 individuals 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, which is bad enough, and in the past 150 years, cheetahs have experienced a massive population collapse. Their entire Asian range has been reduced to some isolated pockets in Iran, and their range in Africa has been greatly fragmented. So they were already quite inbred from natural causes, and it has been made worse through hunting and habitat destruction.

Male cheetahs do have low sperm counts. More than 75 percent of male cheetah sperm is malformed, but this doesn’t stop cheetahs in the wild from reproducing. It turns out that the reason why cheetahs have such a hard time reproducing is that they have an elaborate courtship ritual. Male cheetahs, which band together as previously mentioned, chase the female when she is estrus. They chase her for several days, and this activity stimulates her into ovulation. In captivity, male cheetahs were never really given this opportunity, and most would-be cheetah domesticators wouldn’t have the space or the understanding to get this mating ritual correct.

And if one has to allow cheetahs their courtship chase, it soon becomes obvious.

If you can breed coursing dogs in the basement, why would you ever breed cheetahs?

The coursing dog might not be as fast as the cheetah, but it’s pretty darn close to the cheetah in its conformation and utility. And it is very easy to breed.  It requires almost no knowledge to get them to breed. Just make sure you have a male and a female.

And if they are easy to breed, then you can produce lots of offspring from which one can selectively breed.

Cheetahs don’t have that utility.

As much as I enjoy watching this cheetah coursing clip and thinking of what might have happened had we had some better understanding of cheetah reproduction, I know that the cheetah simply was not going to become a domestic animal. I don’t know how this species would have withstood all the intense selection that is necessary for domestication.  Although these animals are readily tamed, there would always be a desire to breed a cheetah that was even tamer, and with an animal with such finite genetic diversity, it is unlikely that captive strains would have been viable in the long term.

It’s just one of those animals that appears to have been the ideal hunting partner, but its natural history precluded it from ever reaching this status.

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I am unfamiliar with the dietary strictures for Muslims regarding the animals that cheetahs catch, but I have come across the strictures for those that a dog catches. Are these rules the same for cheetahs?

I’m just curious, for it might explain why cheetahs were preferred over dogs in some cultures.

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This video says “India,” but at the time, India was a British possession that included the country we call India today and the countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh. This footage could have easily been taken in what is now Pakistan, and considering the religion of the hunters, it probably was.

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Oh. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it:

Cheetahs are returning to India!

They aren’t going to be used to course blackbuck.

They might be coursing blackbuck, but they will be doing it on their own as native Indian wildlife.

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This cheetah and her kitten were shot in southwestern Iraq in 1925. The hunter is a Bedouin of the Shammar tribe, which once ruled a huge portion of Arabia and a smaller portion of Iraq.

 

When I was in seventh grade, I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventures of the Speckled Band.” It is a Sherlock Holmes story in which the murderer is a nobleman who keeps all sorts of exotic animals. The actual murder weapon– “the speckled band”– is an exotic swamp adder.

The murderer also kept a baboon and an Indian cheetah on his property.

My seventh grade mind couldn’t handle the Indian cheetah’s existence.

I knew that Cheetahs were African. How could there be Asian cheetahs?

I guess I never looked into at the time. I just assumed that I was right.

The nI began seeing depictions of Indian nobles stroking hunting cheetahs as if they were their favorite greyhounds that they were just about to slip loose after some deer or antelope.

Probably imports from Africa, I thought.

Too bad I didn’t see this film:

Source.

So cheetahs were native to India. The British colonialists used to call the ones used to hunt blackbuck “hunting leopards.”

(Of course, cheetahs are not closely related to leopards. Their closest living relatives are the jaguarundi and the cougar.  The extinct American cheetahs were actually more closely related to the cougar and jaguarundi. The modern cheetah evolved from a cougar-like ancestor that migrated the Old World. It did not derive from the American cheetahs.)

But I did not think much of the Indian cheetahs until I heard of another cheetah population.

Remnant population of Asiatic cheetahs still exists.

And of all places, it is found in Iran. A few individuals have popped up in neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan, but the bulk of the tiny Iranian population of 60 to 100 is f0und in that Islamic republic.

When I heard that I began to wonder about how extensively the cheetah ranged into Asia.

Quite extensively it turns out. They were once found from the Sinai to Burma (Myanmar). They were found throughout the Indian subcontinent and Arabia and were also found as far north as the Caspian into territory that is now part of the Russian Federation.

But they have now been reduced to a tiny remnant population in Iran.

Asia was once home to a healthy cheetah population.

And it essentially doesn’t exist anymore.

It is quite a shame, because cheetahs, in case you haven’t noticed, are in a lot of trouble.

Cheetahs have a lot going against them, besides losing almost all of their Asian range.

They are not the best fighters in the cat family. They simply aren’t built for it. Their claws are only partially retractable.

And after they run down their prey, it takes them a very long time to get cooled down before they can eat.

They are poorly adapted to defend themselves from depredations from spotted hyenas and lions.

Habitat fragmentation and even legal and illegal hunting to protect livestock from cheetahs have really taken their toll on the species.

But all of these problems are made infinitely worse by another major issue– one that is more in keeping with our discussions on the blog.

Cheetahs– bot Asiatic and African– have a severe genetic bottleneck.

One of the most amazing testaments to this compromised genetic diversity is that cheetahs don’t reject skin grafts from other cheetahs. They don’t have to be relatives.

Some time during Pleistocene, cheetahs almost went extinct.

Their numbers were severely reduced, and they bred back from a very small founder population.

Cheetahs themselves tend to be healthy, for there has been a rigorous selection in nature against deformity and disease.

However, that does not mean that cheetahs are not suffering from some effects of an inbreeding depression.

Male cheetahs have fertility issues. They have low motility in their sperm and generally have low sperm counts.

The Asiatic cheetah in Iran is probably doomed simply because of that problem. And if we have nuclear war between Israel and Iran, well, they are really doomed!

Cheetahs cannot have new genes added to their population.

There are those in the dog world who would point to the cheetah as a success story for a compromised genetic diversity.

I wish they would have picked a better example.

Because cheetahs are a mess.

I don’t know if they can be saved in the long term.

It is really a major crisis in that species.

New genes can’t be added to cheetahs. They can’t be bred to related species. I would laugh if someone suggested that we breed them to cougars for this purpose.

It is simply not a practical consideration.

But with dogs we have so many more options.

Options we are not using for no reason other than we have a bunch of cultural hang-ups that prevent us from considering genetic diversity.

It is a great shame that we are allowing these cultural hang-ups to prevent any careful considerations here.

I’m sure those cheetah conservationists are envious of our situation.

They would like to have new sources of genes, but they don’t have them.

But it should also be a warning, we think we can breed our dogs in this fashion forever, but it won’t be long before they start to be like cheetahs.

And that would be a major tragedy.

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