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What Is a Saharan Cheetah?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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A Saharan cheetah, or acinonyx jubatus hecki, is often referred to as the northwest African cheetah. It is an endangered animal that resides mostly in Algeria and Niger. Smaller and lighter in color than the average cheetah, little is known about this animal’s social patterns or biology, as they are largely nocturnal and scarce in number. It is believed that the Saharan cheetah shares the same mating habits as other species of cheetah. This rare feline is carnivorous, and there are many factors leading to its extinction.

Outside of Algeria and Niger, it is believed that a select few of this species live in Mali, Chad, and Mauritania. The cheetah tends to stay in the mountainous areas of the desert, as this tends to have more access to water. Despite this, researchers have found that the cheetah tends to stay in areas where prey is available, despite water availability. The Saharan cheetah also seems to prefer areas with very little human activity; if they do venture closer to civilization, they stay in areas where there is easy access to an escape.

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This cheetah looks vastly different than many of the same species. In length, the Saharan only reaches between 3.5 feet (1.1 meters) and 4.5 feet (1.4 meters). From the shoulders to the ground, it tends to stay between 25.5 inches (65 centimeters) and 33.5 inches (85 centimeters). Small and sleek, the Saharan cheetah rarely reaches above 143 pounds (65 kilograms) in weight, and usually stays closer to 88 pounds (40 kilograms). It is also different than most other cheetahs in color; its coat is typically a very light cream color, rather than yellow or orange, although it does have the common black spots and black lines at the tear ducts.

Researchers estimate that less than 300 Saharan cheetahs are in existence. The animal stays out of direct sunlight to preserve energy, so it is extremely unlikely to find one of these creatures out and about during the day. Due to their penchant for avoiding humans and only going out at night, a Saharan cheetah sighting is very rare. It is known that they tend to travel alone or in very loose, small groups, although the latter is uncommon.

As with most mammals, female cheetahs will typically stay with their young for a short period of time. Adults tend to only come together for mating, which can occur during any season. Like most cheetahs, the Saharan takes between 90 and 100 days for full gestation. Litters typically consist of three to five kittens.

The primary prey of the northwest African cheetah are antelopes and gazelles, although it may also eat sheep, rabbits, or other smaller, easy-to-catch prey. While severe droughts are believed to be partially responsible for the endangerment of this species, some researchers have found that the Saharan cheetah has adapted to be able to derive necessary water from its prey’s blood. Lack of prey due to poaching, killing to protect stock, and the killing of the cheetah for its fur are also responsible for the very low numbers. The Saharan cheetah is on several lists for endangered and critically endangered species.

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