The first camera-trap photographs of the critically endangered Saharan cheetah have been taken in Africa, providing evidence of its existence.
An elusive Saharan cheetah recently came into the spotlight in Niger, Africa, when it was captured by a hidden camera. The camera managed to snap photos of the ghostly cat, whose pale coat and emaciated appearance distinguished it from other cheetahs. The camera-trap study provides tangible evidence for the cheetah’s existence in the Termit area.
In one of the images, the sleek looking, light-coloured cat with a small head and small spots on its coat is turning in the direction of the camera with its eyes aglow. The Saharan cheetah’s (Acinonyx Jubatus Hecki) appearance, and how it is genetically related to the other cheetahs, is open to question. John Newby, CEO of the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF), who is part of the team, along with SCF’s Thomas Rabeil and others, captured the camera-trap snapshots between July and August. What they know about this species is limited and comes from the few photos they have managed to take.
The animal is so rare and elusive that scientists are not sure how many of them even exist. Based on the few observations they have made of the animal and tracks, they estimate that fewer than 10 individuals call the vast desert of Termit and Tin Toumma in Niger home. And it is estimated that fewer than 200 cheetahs probably exist in the entire Sahara. As the Saharan cheetah has adaptations for survival in extreme desert conditions, losing it will also mean losing important genetic and biological diversity.
Their home can reach sizzling temperatures of up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) without the existence of water. As such, they probably satisfy their water requirements through the moisture in their prey, as well as, having extremely effective physiological and behavioral adaptations. Therefore, in an effort to stay out of the heat and conserve water, the Saharan cheetah is even more nocturnal than other cheetahs.
In addition, they should likely have broad home ranges since their pry, including gazelles, hares, large birds and smaller rodents, are relatively scarce. According to observations that have been made, it suggests that they prefer caves and rock shelters as breeding dens. Spotting these incredibly shy and elusive cats in the wild has been a challenge.
There are threats to the pale cat, including the scarcity of prey due to poaching as well as overuse and conflicts with herders over stock harassment and killing of their animals. Being suspected of taking goats and even baby camels, these cats are persecuted just like most other large predators. Furthermore, cheetah skins are prized as prayer rugs or can be used to make slippers.
Work is underway with local nomads to put together the true picture of livestock predation. This is an attempt to reduce the arbitrary slaughter of carnivores that has greatly reduced the population of cheetahs and striped hyenas. With the cheetah’s presence, it adds weight to justify the entire zone’s protection as a nature reserve and strengthens the ability to raise support for conservation activities.
The Saharan cheetah is listed as critically endangered on the 2009 International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.