On the Living with Big Cats – Wild Edition program, volunteers have the opportunity to see one of the most rare animals in the world, the King Cheetah. It is said that there are less than 30 King Cheetahs in the entire world, and that they are usually only found in rural areas of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, so it is quite magnificent that one of them lives on our game reserve.
A King Cheetah is exactly like a normal cheetah, with the exception of it’s fur coat; while normal cheetahs genetically have individual black spots on their golden-yellow fur, the King Cheetah has black spots that run together to form large blotches all over it’s body. Another way to clearly tell a cheetah from a King Cheetah is that King Cheetahs have three solid black lines down it’s spine. Originally, King Cheetahs were considered an entirely separate species of cheetah, but it was discovered that the distinctive coat pattern is the only variation that distinguishes a King Cheetah from a normal cheetah.
The pattern mutation is a recessive gene, which can be passed down from generation to generation. However, since the gene is recessive, both parents must have the trait in order to procreate King Cheetah cubs. It is very possible for a litter of cubs to be born with only one cub displaying the King Cheetah gene, and the others exhibiting normal cheetah fur. Many breeding programs exist that strive to produce more king cheetahs, but the mutation is still a scarce rarity.
Rangers at Living with Big Cats – Wild Edition appropriately named their female King Cheetah, Queen. Like all the other animals at the program, Queen was rescued after being discovered on the farm, abandoned and alone. Veterinarians estimate that she is about 12 years old, though her exact age is unknown due to her unwarranted arrival on the reserve.
A remarkable find, Queen is one of the few cheetahs that exhibit the recessive gene that digresses a cheetah from a King Cheetah. Because of this, she is incredibly special. Staff and veterinarians have tried breeding her with other cheetah that exhibit or have the recessive gene with hopes of increasing the population of King Cheetahs, but they were unsuccessful. The veterinarians believe that Queen has passed breeding age, and will therefore unfortunately not pass on her recessive gene for future generations of King Cheetah.
Since making herself at home on the game reserve, Queen has developed a dependency on humans for food supply. She does not hunt for herself, which dramatically depletes her chances of survival in the wild. In order to insure her survival, she will remain in her spacious bush enclosure for the rest of her life where she is happy, healthy, safe, and a marvel to observe.