This Is the King Cheetah

Acinonyx_jubatus_King_Cheetah - Photo by jurvetson
King cheetah. Photo by jurvetson.

Cheetahs are well-known as the fastest land animal on Earth, and they are also well-known for their beautiful yellow fur and black spots. But have you ever seen a cheetah that looks like this?

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At first glance, this cheetah appears more like an overgrown ocelot or jaguar; yet, despite its unusual fur pattern, it’s still very much a cheetah. Known as a “king cheetah”, this particular cheetah color morph is very rare in the wild, and they are generally only seen in captivity.

King_cheetah - Photo by Steve Jurvetson
King cheetah. Photo by Steve Jurvetson.

In fact, king cheetahs are so rare and bizarre that, when British naturalist Reginald Innes Pocock first encountered a king cheetah in 1927, he declared it a separate species. However, due to a lack of evidence to support his claim, he reversed his conclusion in 1939.

In reality, the king cheetah’s peculiar spots and stripes are caused by a single recessive gene, rather than divergence from other cheetahs. This is no different from two dark-haired parents with recessive genes for blonde hair giving birth to a child with blonde hair.

Thus, the “king cheetah” is merely an African cheetah with a funky fur pattern, although that doesn’t make it less fascinating.


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