The king cheetah is a truly regal and extremely rare animal. Only seen a handful of times in the wild over the last hundred years, the strikingly beautiful cat has a distinctive coat. Unlike the traditional cheetah spots on a golden background (the cheetah on the right of the photo), the king cheetah (left) features spots that have run together into erratic splotches as if the paint hadn’t quite dried.
Famed for their speed as the fastest land animal, cheetahs are purpose-built speed merchants. With their long tails acting as a rudder, huge lungs and long sleek bodies, cheetah are majestic at full flight, effortlessly gliding along at over 100 kilometres per hour over short distances.
King cheetahs can only be born to parents that both have a recessive gene (though not necessarily the unusual coat) and hence are rare. Less than fifty exist at all, nearly all in zoos. At Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo (Australia), a city around five hours drive west of Sydney, a mother gave birth to four cubs (two are in the photo) of which two are king cheetahs – the only two king cheetah in Australia.
Indeed, cheetahs in general are a genetic wonder. All cheetahs are effectively identical clones with a belief that they neared extinction many thousands of years ago and were maybe reduced to one or two females. Though still endangered, it is a relief that the world can enjoy these majestic cats with their alert distinctive faces scanning the horizon.