With fewer than 250 individuals left in the world, the Saharan cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki) is one of the rarest carnivores on the planet. As its name suggests, this cheetah species live in pockets of North and West Africa in the Sahara desert. However, an increased lack of suitable prey due to poaching has contributed to the species’ critically endangered status on the IUCN red list.
Its rarity has meant that the last time the species was spotted was almost a decade ago, by teams in both Niger and Algeria. But this hiatus of observations has drawn to a close, as this big cat has once again been found in the Atakor region in the middle of the Ahaggar cultural park, southern Algeria.
At a press conference last week, the Projet des Parcs Culturels Algériens (PPCA) announced that members of the Office National du Parc Culturel de l'Ahaggar (ONPCA), had captured footage of this elusive cheetah. As quoted by the national news agency Algeria Press Service (APS), the director of the PPCA said that this project mobilized “around fifty ONPCA agents from different specialties for 120 days and 40 cameras operating continuously, thus generating a new database of more than 230,000 photos which are under study.”
Some of this footage, including a video of a Saharan Cheetah climbing a tree in Ahaggar Cultural Park taken during one of the research missions in March 2020, was presented at the press conference. This work, alongside other research missions to find the cheetahs in 2017 and 2019, is part of the PPCA’s commitment to help better monitor and conserve the biodiversity in Algeria’s cultural parks.
Smaller, paler, and more nocturnal than other cheetah species, Saharan cheetahs are estimated to have a density of just 0.21–0.55 per 1,000 square kilometers – one of the lowest large carnivore densities ever recorded in Africa. Many researchers hope that conservation efforts will prevent the cat from going extinct, the fate that several other Algerian desert species, such as the Addax antelope and Dama gazelle, are already succumbing to.