Rare photos of elusive Saharan cheetah revealed

Saharan cheetah
World’s first close-up photos of Saharan cheetah includes this rare daytime shot. Photo by Farid Belbachir used by permission

Some of the world's only photos of the elusive Saharan cheetah, one of the rarest carnivores on the planet, were released this week as part of a study designed to help save the critically endangered species.

New research shows that Saharan cheetahs exist at incredibly low densities and require vast areas for their conservation. It is believed that Saharan cheetahs number fewer than 250 today, and virtually nothing is known about this subspecies.

The study by scientists and conservationists at the Zoological Society of London, University College London, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Université de Béjaïa, Algeria, were published Wednesday by PLOS ONE.

Saharan cheetah
Among the world’s first close-up photos of the Saharan cheetah. Photo courtesy of Farid Belbachir

"This is the first time we have been able to collect scientific data on the rare Saharan cheetah, as in the past we have had to rely on anecdotes and guesswork," said Farid Belbachir, lead author of the study from Université de Béjaïa. "We hope that this important carnivore does not follow the path to extinction like other Algerian desert species such as the addax antelope and dama gazelle."

Remote infrared camera traps were used in Ahaggar Cultural Park, Algeria, and captured the only close-up photographs ever taken of the Saharan cheetah.

Saharan cheetah
The Saharan cheetah is critically endangered with less than 250 believed to be in existence. Photo courtesy of Farid Belbachir

From the Wildlife Conservation Society:

The findings…show that the Saharan cheetah adapts its behavior to cope with the harsh desert environment in which it lives. They are active at night, probably to avoid heat or contact with humans, and must cover a vast amount of ground to find prey.

Research into how cheetahs survive within extreme desert conditions gives scientists a better understanding of how best to approach their conservation. The survival of large carnivores within the Sahara desert indicates that at present the Ahaggar Cultural Park is still a relatively healthy habitat; however there are threats to cheetah and their prey. Authors argue that more needs to be done to secure this habitat's long-term survival.

The Saharan cheetah is confined to desert environments, living in pockets of north and west Africa. The animal is more nocturnal, more wide-ranging and occur at lower densities than other cheetahs living in Africa, the report revealed.

Saharan cheetah
The Saharan cheetah is the one of the rarest carnivores on the planet. Photo courtesy of Farid Belbachir

"This research provides us with important new insights into the world of this remarkable desert-dwelling large cat," said Dr. Sarah Durant, co-author from WCS and ZSL. "I hope that it not only provides invaluable scientific information about the ecology of the Saharan cheetah for the first time but also reminds the world of the value of studying and protecting desert species and their environments, which are often overlooked by researchers and conservation programs."

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