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Posts Tagged ‘cheetah inbreeding’

 

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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