The Asiatic cheetah species is not closely related to the African one as previously thought

11 years ago a DNA assessment was done on the Iranian cheetah. This cheetah population is the last Asian cheetah population remaining.

It was thought that all cheetah went through a bottleneck 10,000 years ago, meaning that all cheetah were closely related. However this is not as all encompassing as we thought.

Wild Iranian cheetah

The Asiatic cheetah species split from the African cheetah species 30,000 years ago, meaning that while this is a relatively recent split, it is not as recent as formerly thought.

What follows is that Irans cheetah population contains essential genetic diversity that may be needed for the cheetah to survive at all. Given that this population numbers between 70 -110 much work needs to be done.

There are currently 5 subspecies recognized (based largely on appearance) though given the lack of genetic variability in African cheetah, perhaps at least a few of these subspecies needs to be scrapped.

Genetic studies found that cheetah in Southern Africa and Eastern Africa are distinct enough to justify separate sub species status.

However cheetah in west Africa (250 mature individuals), northern east Africa (950 mature individuals) are very similar and so evidence is being sought as to whether these three subspecies should be combined. It is important not to identify subspecies where they do not exist as it reducing the gene pool in each, making survival less likely. If these 2 struggling cheetah subspecies are actually one that is spread wide, humans could improve the odds of each lasting by moving cheetahs between the different populations. North Africa and Iran (70-110) cheetah subspecies has been shown to not be accurate as the Asiatic cheetah havent interbred for 30,000 years (as we said earlier).

If this is confirmed, the Iranian population did not go through the bottleneck, which would mean that they contain genetic material that could make African cheetah less liable to suffer from genetic problems. However, another issue is that this confirms that the Indian cheetah was not closely related to the African cheetah as once thought – which means that cheetah cannot be reintroduced to India from Africa. Instead, first the Iranian cheetah population must be secured, then it must grow to a much larger size. Only then, could a few individuals be translocated into India to try to reintroduce this animal back to where it once existed.

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