Tuesday, October 13, 2009
The Rare King Cheetah
Hoedspruit Cheetah Project and the Endangered King Cheetah by Mark Bottell
Conser- vation volunteers regularly flock to Hoedspruit Cheetah Project to help with the rehabilitation of these big cats. But whilst many people have heard all about cheetahs few people have heard of the enigmatic king cheetah. But with so few sightings in the wild who can blame them?
The king cheetah was first spotted in Zimbabwe in 1926 where it was considered to be an entirely different animal to the standard cheetah. However, although the king cheetahs may look a little different from the other cheetahs that you may spot at the Hoedspruit Cheetah Project in truth they are exactly the same animal.
The most notable difference between the two leopards is their distinct coat pattern which features three stripes along its back. It was later discovered that these distinctive stripes were actually the result of a rare form of genetic mutation. King cheetahs must hold a recessive gene from both their parents which explains why the condition is so rare.
Although the condition may be rare, staff at the Hoedspruit Cheetah Project have been successful in breeding these exotic cats. This is an important exercise as it expands the gene pool of the species. Conservation volunteers at Hoedspruit Cheetah Project often see first hand the effects of inbreeding, and with so few cheetahs left in the wild the young are often born with crooked teeth and bent tails which shows how important it is to ensure that that the gene pool is successfully expanded to include rare sub-species of cheetah such as the king.
Conservation volunteers at the Hoedspruit Cheetah Project are guaranteed plenty of hands-on experience with a particular emphasis on the breeding and maintenance of cheetahs in captivity. Twice a week conservation volunteers will even have the opportunity to feed these elusive big cats which is definitely an experience in itself. There is also the opportunity to assist in veterinary treatment should any arise whilst you are on your animal rehabilitation experience.
As well as the hands-on experience students will attend weekly lectures on conservation, which include plenty of information from subjects as diverse as the biomes that make up the cheetah's natural habitat to presentations on the genetic makeup of the king cheetah.
Whilst at the Hoedspruit Cheetah Project, conservation volunteers will have the opportunity to explore many notable places of interest from white water rafting opportunities over South Africa's infamous Blyde River Canyon to early morning hot air balloon trips over the Kruger National Park, which provide a unique viewpoint in which to spot South Africa's Big Five, from elephants munching on leafy trees to lions basking in the long grass. Who knows if you're incredibly lucky you may even get to spot a rare king cheetah from the safe confines of your basket.
Mark Bottell is the General Manager for Worldwide Experience, an online tour operator offering extended breaks upon which you can participate in the Hoedspruit Cheetah project, and other conservation volunteering gap years for grown-ups.
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