Cheetahs: extreme measures needed

2011-01-19 22:34
Pretoria - Conventional cheetah conservation methods need to be abandoned and extreme measures taken to save the species, the National Research Foundation said on Wednesday.

The conclusion follows new collaborative research on cheetah populations in Africa and Asia by the National Zoological Gardens (NZG) in Pretoria, which point to a complete rethink of the approach to ensuring the survival of the big cats.

"One of the most startling discoveries we made was that, contrary to conventional wisdom which maintains that cheetahs are generally in-bred, they are far more diverse as a species than originally thought," said Professor Antoinette Kotze, manager for research and scientific services at the NZG.

Not only are African cheetahs from various regions distinct from one another, but also more importantly, the Asiatic cheetah found in Iran was a distinct sub-species from the African variety.

The Iranian cheetah was believed to be on the brink of extinction, with an estimated 110 remaining.

Emphasising the urgent need for steps to prevent the extinction of the species, Kotze indicated the Iranian government had renewed its commitment to a major conservation effort.

"The next few years are critical... We need to completely rethink our approach to cheetah conservation worldwide," she said.

The aim of the five-year project, carried out by the NZG under Kotze's leadership, was to confirm whether the cheetah as a species maintained a low level of genetic variation as has been the assumption up to now.

The study was done in conjunction with researchers from the University of Vienna, the French National Research Centre and the Portuguese Science Foundation.

Kotze said the research project was a "long and arduous process" as it entailed gathering DNA samples of living animals in the wild, in zoos and from museum specimens in Southern Africa, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Djibouti, Great Britain, Germany, France and Belgium.

"Gathering information from zoo specimens was relatively easy as much of the information relating to origin was available from the International Species Information System," she said.

On the other hand, the DNA investigation was a complex process, with samples of blood, hair, bone, skin and faeces of 95 different animals taken and the DNA extracted, and analysed using sophisticated technology.
Read more on:    animals  |  research

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