The Indian Cheetah
by K. L. Kamat
Not too long ago, the Cheetah roamed in the Indian subcontinent but the rich people's greed for hunt (shikar) has resulted in wiping out its population completely. The records show that the last three cheetahs were shot dead in mid 1950s by a party of hunters who belonged to a royal family. Thus Asiatic Cheetah are extinct in India.
Like the leopard (panther), the cheetah belongs to mammalian order Carnivaora; family Felidae' genus Acinonyx. In general format, it very much resembles a hunting dog depicted in an ancient sculpture of Mudhol (Bijapur district, Karnataka) A lean and light weight body, long legs, tiny head are all streamlined for speed. It has beautiful light yellow coat, covered with black or brown spots. A distinctive black marking on either side of its face is like a long, black teardrop. Its young one is very charming with gray bushy hair on its back and neck. As it grows, this hair falls off and uniform, short, coarse fur develops in its place. Both young ones and adults cannot pull in their claws, a feature that could be found among dogs.
The Cheetah is a grassland animal, and avoids forest and dense brush. At times it scouts the area from low branches of a tree and then flattens itself against ground and waits for its prey to come as close as possible. Suddenly it charges with lightening speed, jumping on its preys back or seizing it by the throat from the side. It relies on speed, sprinting at more than 1.5 kilometer a minute, over a short distance to make its kill. It slows down quickly after the first sprint of charge. Even a slight leg injury may result in starvation. A small antelope is its preferred prey. A full fed cheetah does not bother to glance at a group of deer that are grazing with a striking distance. It hunts during the day individually or in the company of the other members of the family.
The Mogul emperors' hunting parties (see Moghuls) invariably included one or two trained cheetahs to assist in their expeditions. They were blindfolded, chained and carried in a case, or on a horseback. Whenever the desired game was sighted, the cheetah was sent after it for a kill. Sixteenth century Mogul miniature paintings have good illustrations of such cheetahs. Akbar-Namah is such rare manuscript. Even today many westerners rear cheetahs as pets. However, the fully grown male seldom develops the tendency to the sudden fits of annoyance and may even attack its master.
The African species is, Acinonyx jubatas has a tawny black spotted coat. This cheetah too is on the verge of wiping out completely. As the farmers and forester's communities have infringed this wildcat's territory the cheetah have commence attacking fowls and other domesticated animals. in retaliation the local people poison and kill cheetah on a very large scale. Thus this may result in extinction of the animal from Africa. Iran has a few cheetah which are different from Asiatic species. the cheetah have been prized for coats and other accessories (claws) and they have been killed for their lovely fur also.
As the population of cheetahs dwindle, zoo authorities are frantically trying their best to breed them in captivity. Their experiences are diverse and interesting. One found out that the familiarity between the male and female leads to contempt only. hence they should be kept separate and brought together only when they come in to heat. the second found out that there should be fierce competition for a female then only the male becomes aggressive for mating. Third found out that a whole animal, which includes the skin, fur, hoofs, bones, required to bring them in to heat. In zoos they usually feed on either cow or horse meat only. However, there is record to show that two pets brought out a progeny in a residential flat. However, mortality among cubs is very high; more than half of them die before they attain eight months. The Mysore Zoo is trying (year 2001) its best to breed the African species so that they could replenish them in a natural habitat.
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