Large striped Cat of South Africa, once thought
to be a separate species of cheetah.
Etymology: After the regal splendor of its coat.
Scientific names: Acinonyx rex, proposed by
Reginald Pocock in 1927; modified later to A.
jubatus var. rex.
Variant names: Mazoe leopard, Nsui-fisi
(from the Swahili/Bantu chui-fisi, “leopardhyena”),
Physical description: Like the common cheetah
but with a thicker, silky coat. Marked with
slightly raised black stripes on the spine and
dark blotches on a cream-colored background.
A more pronounced mane. Fully ringed tail.
King cheetah variants are found in the litters of
Behavior: Nocturnal, as opposed to the traditional
cheetah preference for daytime hunting.
Habitat: Forests, whereas the cheetah prefers
open country, from desert to dry savanna.
Distribution: Zimbabwe; Botswana; Mozambique;
Northern Province, South Africa. There
is also a report of a single skin recovered from
Burkina Faso in West Africa.
Significant sightings: First brought to scientific
attention in 1926 when A. C. Cooper noticed
an unusual skin in Harare’s Queen Victoria
Memorial Library and Museum. Reginald
Pocock identified it as a cheetah’s but with a
vastly different coat pattern. At least twenty-one
other skins were obtained through 1974.
The first King cheetah born in captivity was
born to normally marked parents in 1981 at the
Seaview Game Park in Port Elizabeth, South
Africa. The DeWildt Cheetah and Wildlife
Centre in North-West Province, South Africa,
obtained twelve live King cheetah specimens between
1981 and 1987, three of them cubs born
from their breeding program.
(1) Now generally seen as a single-locus
genetic morph of the common Cheetah
(Acinonyx jubatus). Lena Bottriell considers
it to be an instance of evolution in the
making: the modified, striped coat provides
better camouflage as the cheetah adapts to
night hunting in dense forests. If the King
cheetahs are separated reproductively from
the rest of the cheetah population for an
appropriate amount of time, they may
actually become a distinct species.
(2) By contrast, King cheetahs may
represent a genetic throwback to the time
when Africa was colder and more forested.