Genetic Diversity

genetic diversity

About 12,000 years ago, a mass extinction event occurred that eliminated 75% of the world’s large mammal species. Fortunately, a handful of cheetahs managed to survive this extreme extinction event and were able to restore the world’s population of cheetahs.

Cheetah subspecies distribution

Cheetah subspecies distribution – lighter colors denote historic (pre-1900) range

This event caused an extreme reduction of the cheetah’s genetic diversity, known as a population bottleneck, resulting in the physical homogeneity of today’s cheetahs. Poor sperm quality, focal palatine erosion, susceptibility to the same infectious diseases, and kinked tails characteristic of the majority of the world’s cheetahs are all ramifications of the low genetic diversity within the global cheetah population.

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Cheetah Conservation Fund 2008Suitable levels of genetic diversity are vital to a population’s ability to adapt and overcome environmental changes and unexpected disasters. Unsustainable human expansion and consumption leads to more unstable environmental conditions, and when habitat is destroyed and fragmented, the rate of inbreeding increases, which leads to even more reduction in genetic diversity. The coupling of these factors increases the risk of environmental variability to the world’s cheetah population. Therefore, ensuring that the low levels of genetic diversity in the world’s cheetah population do not decrease further is vital to the survival of the cheetah.

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