|The Endangered Cheetah|
©1998 Ms Holly Sundstrom
The Cheetah is one of the world's fastest running animals in the world. But it can only run at its top speeds for a very short while.
The cheetah has extremely long legs and uses its tail for balance as it runs as do many animals such as the kangaroo. The burst of speed that it makes to capture an animal of prey usually cannot be sustained long and it takes the cheetah a great while to recover. The cheetah can run almost as fast as an automobile on a US highway when chasing its prey.
The cheetah has evolved for hunting on the grass lands or plains - where there is a great deal of open space away from trees and many shrubs. The cheetah has spots like many of it's feline relatives to help camoflage it from prey while hunting. It generally tries to give itself an advantage by first sneaking up as close as it can to its prey. This is where its camoflaging patterns help it blend into the surrounding tall grasses and shrubs. It then analyzes the herds for animals which will be the easiest to capture. As it is usually a solo hunter it must select its prey well. The cheetah, just as any hunter or predator, usually selects the unhealthy, the injured, the weary, the starved, and the young. These animals are least apt to be able to protect themselves from the cheetah by fleeing.
The cheetah's body is designed to help it run fast for short lengths of time to catch its prey. Often because it is shaped somewhat differently than many feline species and it runs very fast it has been compared to the grey hound or even confused with being a dog (which is a descendant of the meat and vegetable eating, omnivore, bears).
The cheetah has very little genetic diversity. Most cheetahs are almost identical. It has been shown that often the reason species of animals are disease resistant is because they have a diversity in their genetics from blood types to tissue types. This is what gives difficulties in blood transfusions and in organ or tissue donations. One has to find somone who is very close genetically so the body does not see that donation of tissue as being foreign such that it rejects it. This is one indication of the lack of genetic diversity in the cheetah for it is able to accept donor tissue from almost any other cheetah.
What this essentially means is that the cheetah may fall prey to extinction if a virus or other disease organism (a pathogen) figures out just how to invade its system and not be detected.
Each time a pathogen enters the body of any species it learns that system better. As it enters the next species it is more virulent for it understands how that body system works. That is why having a diverse population helps all species (especially humans who are amongst the most diverse) survive. Our genetics have learned that to survive we must remain as efficiently diverse as possible. We even have systems within us that ensure that our next generation is not exactly the same. This is called transmutation of DNA where the genetics of the next generation are different.
As the space in which wild animals becomes smaller such that the animals are confined to certain areas their genetics will tend to loose its diversity. This occurs because the animals that remain tend to share the same genetics (DNA) with each other to where eventually it is very similar. This is often recognized in humans where people have been isolated from the outside world so long that the people almost all look identical.
In the United States one only has to go into a mall to see an extremely diverse population with diverse genetics - DNA. It has been shown and known for many generations in many cultures and animal raisers that by selecting different genetics the species is strengthened and is healthier. This is the reason why ancient people decided that people should not marry their sisters and brothers. Marrying very closely tended to make genetics of their children so identical that the children were prone to many diseases that those who did not marry closely caught.
In Africa many tribes realized that if they married outside their tribe they would grow healthier and stronger. They forbid their men and women to marry within their tribes. As you look around today in the United States often you can see that wisdom still within many of the descendants of the Africans. I have noticed when I speak with them they tend to not be afraid of people outside of their own races and will often marry them. My experience is their mixed children tend to be overall very healthy and often good looking... the term good looking means to look like you are good... and that includes genetics.
One can locate a great deal of information online, through Microsoft's Encarta Enclycopaedia which has an impressive selection of information and videos for viewing or by searching for Cheetah at any of the major or minor search engines. I wish I could remember where all I gathered this information over the years but I cannot. I must give credit to public educational television, my College and University Science teachers and text books, National Geographic (whom I have read since I was a child), and anyone or anything else who contributed.