The Acinonyx jubatus, more commonly known as the Cheetah, belongs to the Felinae family, which is a sub-family of the felidae. Within the family it is part of the Acinonyx genus and jubatus species, the only species of the extent genera. Acinonyx is greek for “no-move-claw” and jubatus is latin for maned, in reference to the mane their cubs have. There is a total of five subspecies of Acinonyx jubatus. The Acinonyx jubatus is formally not considered a Big Cat, as it lacks a hyoid bone, and as a result cannot roar.
The Acinonyx jubatus resides modernly in Africa, Asia, and altered areas of Europe. These may seem like large continents to live in, but the A. jubatus is only found in remote regions of its once vast natural range.In modern day, their habitat is only about ten percent of what it originally was. A couple A. jubatus can be found in Iran with the majority being found in sub- Saharan Africa. It can also be found in a few parts of Eastern and Southern Africa, with the highest population of wild A. jubatus being found in Namibia, a South-Western African country.
The Acinonyx jubatus is known to thrive in vast, open grasslands because it enhances its ability to accelerate quickly and move freely. Its claws that do not fully retreat when chasing animals, allow the A. jubatus to use the dry and open terrain to its advantage like the cleats on athletes. Although this feline is known for existing in vast and dry open grasslands, it can also be found in deserts, dense vegetations, and mountainous terrain. The preceding, assuming there is sufficient food supply and water. This species is one of Africa's most vulnerable felines with population numbers being mainly affected by growing human settlements that interfere with their native habitat.
The Acinonyx jubatus can live up to 17 years in the zoo, and about 12 years in the wild. Female A. jubatus typically have litters of three cubs, but this number can vary anywhere between one and eight cubs per litter. At birth, A. jubatus can weigh between five to ten ounces. Furthermore, A. jubatus cubs will spend one and a half to two years learning from their mothers and go their separate ways after that. This species reaches maturity between two to three years old and although they are very territorial, males can hunt in small pack like groups called coalitions. On the other hand, female A. jubatus are always alone unless they are mating or with their cubs.
The Acinonyx jubatus evolved about 5.5 million years ago. It has very low genetic diversity levels as a result to a potentially severe bottleneck in its past. This means that the species is vulnerable to disease and environmental changes. This might be one of the greatest factors of why cheetah populations have drastically dropped in recent times. The cheetah is the fastest land mammal and can reach speeds of up to seventy-five miles per hour. European settlers viewed cheetahs as a vermin to be dealt with and as a result drastic measures to eliminate them were put into place. This has affected their biogeographical areas of dominance. As a result of its unusual morphology, there is much debate over the cheetahs extant relationships and has been usually placed in its own sub-family, the Acinonychinae. With modern analyses a clearer picture of a closer relationship with the puma has been painted within a larger group of small felids. There is great debate whether the cheetah lineages in America and Eurasia are related and that is where the puma ancestor might come into play, but even so it is not fully clear.
The Acinonyx jubatus' conservation status is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There is many factors affecting the wild Acinonyx jubatus population but a huge part can be attributed to the impacts of human on the species. The Acinonyx jubatus is highly protected in national parks, but they go after migratory prey that go outside the protected areas. As a result, the species finds itself in farmland areas where there is vulnerable livestock. Farmers tend to blame cheetahs over attacks on their livestock even though many of those attacks can actually be perpetuated by leopards. Either farmers kill the cheetahs or indiscriminately remove them from their lands regardless of whether they are a problem or not. Cheetahs may get speared or caught in traps placed by farmers. Insensitive tourism is also a human impact on the cheetahs. When a female cheetah is denning, its movements are limited because they have to stay near their cubs. Insensitive tourism can disrupt their hunting due to the fact that cheetahs are diurnal hunters, and as a result cheetah females that are unable to forge correctly will choose to abandon their cubs. The cheetah species is also subject to use by humans. Cheetahs can be used for trophy hunting in exchange for high money value and they are also a main attraction for tourism.
For the Acinonyx jubatus, conservation efforts will play a huge part in determining its future. An example of a very straightforward effort is the Serengeti National Park strictly protected conservation area. This has a positive local impact but cheetahs do not always remain in the same area, they tend to travel along with their prey outside of the protected boundaries which leaves them vulnerable. Another example in motion is park managers and scientists working together to put conservation efforts together, but this can prove to be difficult since both groups work on distinct time frames. Park managers are expected to solve short-term problems while scientists focus more on long-term issues that may arise. In addition, Tanzania National Parks has a policy of non-intervention in natural processes with the exception of extreme circumstances such as when a population is in imminent danger of extinction. This limits the extent to which scientists' long-term studies and efforts can be put into place since the Acinonyx jubatus are only one element in a diverse and large ecosystem. This does not mean that scientists' conservations efforts are in vain. They have a found a loophole to put their efforts into play regardless of the strict policies. The Serengeti Cheetah Project has maintained good relations with SNP staff, TANAPA, and TAWIRI to facilitate the process of adaptive management strategies through informal dialogue.
Thanks to scientists' long term studies on the Acinonyx jubatus there is many theories on conservational efforts that can prevent the species from going extinct. The problem is getting around the policies that prevent intervention with natural processes unless a species is at the verge of extinction. Informal dialogue and good relationships with park managers are playing a huge role in getting through those strict policies, but even then there is room for improvement. One conservation recommendation that may begin to be placed into effect is turning the Acinonyx jubatus into a flagship species in the countries where it is found. This would encourage conservational support from the government because it would create a national income through products and tourism surrounded on the species. Even if tourists do not catch a glimpse of the species, people will still pay to go on tours regardless of the low probabilities. Another conservation recommendation would be to create incentives for farmers in areas where there tends to be conflict between farmers and cheetahs. A good example would be, marketing “predator friendly” Namibian beef to the European Union and South African export markets and providing farmers using non-removal predator-control methods with the incentive of charging higher prices for their livestock products. In addition to that, raising Trophy Hunting prices on cheetahs would also create a higher tolerance for cheetahs by farmers because the higher prices that they can earn during hunting seasons would provide an incentive. A last conservation recommendation would be using farms where cheetahs are oftenly spotted as points for tourism so that the farmers can benefit from cheetahs being present on their land and potentially offset the losses of livestock with profits from tourism.
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