Temporal range: 5 MyF to 17 MyF
| Acinonyx solus|
The desert cheetah (Acinonyx solus) is one of the few remaining species of cheetah left on Earth.
|Future of The World|
|This is a part of Future of The World: a collaborative project about our planet's future|
Tan with barely visible spots, the desert cheetah has been nicknamed "The Ghost of the Desert" by researchers due to its pale appearance, and the patterning that makes it barely visible when in the distance. The build of the cat is thin and slender, with very large ears and extremely thin fur.
The desert cheetah is slightly smaller than Acinonyx jubatus – 1.0–1.3 meters (not including the tail) and 20–70 kg kilograms for A. solus as opposed to 1.3–1.7 meters and 24–77 kilograms for A. jubatus. The smaller size assists in losing heat. However, as nights in the desert can be very cold, the desert cheetah is quite capable of surviving a wide range of temperatures, especially cold ones – at least for short periods.
The claws of the desert cheetah are adapted for digging, and are in many respects similar to shovels. The paw pads are rough and callused, with buildups of keratin; this helps the desert cheetah avoid burning its feet.
Desert cheetahs are usually solitary, even the males--there simply aren't enough resources to support groups. Prey is scarce, as is water, so the best desert cheetah territory is usually around an oasis, where in a few cases desert cheetahs will form coalitions similar to the rest of the genus. The same has been documented as happening in semidesert regions.
Like A. jubatus, desert cheetahs are cursorial predators, chasing down their prey by sprinting after it as quickly as possible. Unlike A. jubatus, however, desert cheetahs prefer small prey, especially reptiles. These are supplemented with larger prey items, but small animals such as small rodents, insects, and reptiles still make up the bulk of the desert cheetah's diet. Frequently desert cheetahs will unearth tubers, which provide much of its water. To evade much of the heat of the day, desert cheetahs are crepuscular. During the day they usually simply sun themselves, moving in and out of shade as necessary – though they'll certainly snap at a locust wandering by if they aren't especially hot and tired.
Desert cheetahs produce litters of up to four. The cubs stay with the mother for up to five months, then leave to find their own territories. Cub mortality is highest in the first few weeks, during which large varanid lizards and constrictors will often eat cubs left alone in the den while the mother is off hunting. Approximately 80% of cubs never reach reproductive age, but those that do have few predators.
In our time, several subspecies of cheetah live in the desert, living mostly in the Sahara desert and Iran. These subspecies went extinct due to humans shooting them. However, cheetahs remained strong in Namibia and other areas in Western Africa. With the extinction of lions and the decline of several other predators, cheetah populations exploded due to drastically increased cub survival rate. Quickly enough, they encountered an isolated pocket of rocky desert in Namaqualand. While not particularly large, this desert pocket was ripe for exploitation.
And exploit it they did. The cheetah population in the area quickly grew adapted for desert life: They became crepuscular, grew more effective at eliminating waste heat, reduced the amount of water lost by urine and panting, and switched to a diet of smaller prey. Over about three and a quarter million years, the desert population finally stopped interbreeding with the other populations. The reproductive isolation quickly resulted in a new species, though it is believed that the two could interbreed, even if they don't in the wild.
- ↑ It is believed that the reference originated in the 2368 A.C. (After Contact) African Expedition and was coined by Andrej Vlastislav Zeman. However, it is difficult to tell for sure, as while the name was also used in Jahangir Dariush Attar's poem, "Sunset Upon The Plains Upon Which Our Ancestors Walked." While Attar was being poetic (and indeed the desert cheetah had only just been discovered), her use of the term predated the release of the paper in which the desert cheetah was actually described.
- ↑ This is actually a higher survival rate than the cheetah currently has.