Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are known for three things: their speed, their spots, and (unfortunately) that they are endangered. The cheetah has a distinctive light tan coat (although the underbelly is lighter) with solid black spots. It is the solid black spots that distinguish the cheetah from most other cat coats where rosettes are more prevalent. However, a recessive genetic mutation can produce a blotchy spotting pattern known as the King cheetah.
The IUCN Red List identifies cheetahs as vulnerable to extinction. There are approximately 7,000 animals in the wild; however, individual populations are close to extirpation (or local extinction). For example, Iran’s cheetah population has fewer than 100 individuals, which is particularly concerning given that this population was identified as the last population of the Asiatic cheetah subspecies (A. j. venaticus). Historically, African cheetahs were found in both the Sahara desert in both the east and west, along most of the eastern plains of Africa, and into the south including the Kalahari Desert. The range of the Asiatic cheetah extended across the Arabian Peninsula, up to the Caspian Sea, then down into the Indian subcontinent (see Figure 1 in this open access paper). Currently, much of the historical range has been lost and the remaining habitat fragmented which is a primary reason for the decline in the cheetah population. Cheetahs have large home ranges and live at low densities meaning that large tracks of land must be available to support cheetah populations.
Loss of habitat is not the only reason for the decline in cheetah populations. Just as top predators have lost habitat, so has their prey meaning they do not have enough food. While some cheetah populations hunt livestock for food, others do not. In both areas where the cats do and do not kill livestock, they are considered a pest species that should be eradicated resulting in harassment and killing. Additionally, biologists have known for a long time that genetic diversity in the species is low. Low genetic diversity increases susceptibility to disease by not having enough alleles in immune system genes to fight off new versions of pathogens.
If you’re interested in the conservation of cheetahs check out the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
While leopard prints are more literal, cheetah prints tend to have an abstract quality mostly due to playing with the size of the spots. While the animal has a medium sized spot, cheetah prints often shrink the size of the spots to create drama. Additionally, while cheetah’s lighter underbellies are rarely seen, fashion designers use the contrast in color between the tan dorsal and cream ventral sides to add variation to the pattern. See some gorgeous examples from the runway below.