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The Northwest African Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki) is quite different in appearance from the other African cheetahs. Also known as the Saharan Cheetah it’s a subspecies found in the north-western part of Africa (especially the central Western Sahara desert and the Sahel). Its total global population is estimated to be around 250 mature individuals and is classified as critically endangered.
The coat of this subspecies is shorter and nearly white in color. Spots on the body fade from black over the spine to light brown on the legs. The face may have few or even no spots, and the tear marks (dark stripes running down from the corner of each eye to the side of the muzzle to the corner of the mouth) are often nonexistent. The shape of body is fundamentally the same as that of the sub-Saharan subspecies, except that it is to some extent smaller in size.
Habitat and Distribution
This subspecies ranges around the western and central Sahara desert and the Sahel in small, fragmented populations. The largest populations of these animals are believed to exist in Algeria’s Ahaggar highlands. This claim is not very reliable as it is based on limited data obtained in 2009 from observations of only four individuals. Besides Algeria, the range is believed to include Niger, Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin. About 60 Northwest African Cheetahs are thought to inhabit Algeria, as compared to 10 or lesser in Niger.
This subspecies have important behavioral and physiological adaptations, which allow it to stay alive in the extreme conditions of the Sahara desert, where temperatures may rise up to 45 degrees Celsius during the day (113 degrees Fahrenheit) and where water sources are extremely scarce. Perhaps these extreme conditions have forced the animal to become even more nocturnal, compared to its other cousins. This kind of lifestyle helps the animal to stay out of the daytime heat of the desert and to conserve water. They can subsist without direct access to water, obtaining water indirectly from the blood of their prey.
A team of scientists from the Zoological Society of London photographed this subspecies for the first time in 2009 by using a night-time camera trap in the deserts of Algeria. Next year another individual was photographed in the deserts of the Termit Massif in Niger, again using a night-time camera trap.
These cats by and large lead a solitary and semi-nomadic life. Small groups are found, but they are usually as mother and cubs or male coalitions, which generally have a very small range. Female territories are located in areas of high prey base, which as a result determine male territories.
Hunting and diet
The main prey species of this animal are antelopes that have adapted to desert environment, such as the Dama Gazelle, addax, Rhim Gazelle and Dorcas Gazelle. Smaller animals such as hares are also taken.
Not much information is available on the following subspecies.
- Acinonyx jubatus raineyii: eastern Africa (Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Somalia)
- Acinonyx jubatus jubatus: southern Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia)
- Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii: central Africa (Sudan, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Central African Republic and Ethiopia)
- Acinonyx jubatus velox