The Saharan cheetah still lives in Algeria. This is the encouraging news announced last week by the director of the Project of Cultural Parks of Algeria (PPCA), Salah Amokran. During the press conference, he explained that the cheetah was spotted thanks to cameras in the Ahaggar Cultural Park, located in the Tamanrasset region in the far south of Algeria.
According to the director, more than ten years have passed since this subspecies of cheetah was named Acinonyx jubatus hecki, was not noticed in the region and for a good reason. Once widespread in northwestern Africa, the feline population has declined dramatically. So much so that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies it as endangered.
According to the latest IUCN estimates, the subspecies is developing in only 9% of its original habitat, with fewer than 250 individuals developing in Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. Thus, in 2012, the population of Algeria was only 37 cheetahs. Hence the importance of the observations made in the Ahaggar Cultural Park.
A cheetah photographed at an altitude of 3,000 meters above sea level
These observations are the fruit of a research project that mobilized “about fifty Onpca agents of various specialties for 120 days and 40 cameras working continuously, thus creating a new database of more than 230,000 photos, which are currently being studied“, Salah Amokrain specified, as reported by the official APS press agency.
The images of the cheetah were captured by one of the cameras installed on the Atakor volcanic plateau at an altitude of about 3,000 meters in the Hoggar mountain range. No additional information about the individual has been released at this time.
During the 2000s, agents of the Ahaggar Cultural Park made several reports, as well as two operations to rescue cheetahs kept by breeders. However, the felines have disappeared from the radar since 2010, with the last confirmed direct sighting dating back to 2008, the PPCA explains in a special edition of its newsletter.
“We saw a cheetah for the first time in so many years. This outstanding result is the result of a joint effort between the Ahaggar Cultural Park office, the local population and the Cultural Parks Project.“, – rejoiced Hamud Amerzag, director of ONPCA.”The presence of such a rare species in the Ahaggar Cultural Park once again confirms the ecological value of this space.“.
Ahaggar is indeed an area of great biological diversity. Thus, in addition to the cheetah, scientists have confirmed the presence of the African golden wolf, Rüppel’s fox, the stone daman – a marmot-like mammal -, the Cape hare and even the Barbary sheep.
Cheetah with shorter and lighter hair
The Saharan cheetah, called Amayas, is physically very different from its African counterparts. His head is smaller, his hair is usually shorter and lighter. It also has less prominent spots and paler or even absent black bars on the face. The same applies to the rings, usually located at the level of the tail.
The dangers facing the subspecies are similar to those facing cheetahs in general. Felines are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching targeting prey species, and conflicts with breeders. Against these two latest threats in Ahaggara, ONPCA has initiated activities for dialogue with the local population.
The cheetah is currently classified as “vulnerable” by the IUCN. Its population, which is considered to be in decline, is estimated to be less than 7,000 individuals, and its geographic distribution will reach only 10% of its original habitat. Thus, felines are considered extinct in several countries. In Asia, the presence of the species is limited to the deserts of Iran.
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