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A yearlong search for an elusive species of Cheetah that roams the desert of Termit, Niger, was finally successful, after an image of the extremely rare cat was captured by one of the strategically situated night cameras.
Believed to be one of only ten left in this landlocked, arid North African country, the slender pale cat that sports a long tail had its face turned directly at the camera, in the slightly murky image, which was captured in mid 2010, but not released until late December.
What made it even more exciting was the fact that while the cats had been spotted in the area three times, they had never before been caught on tape by the scientists from the Saharan Conservation Fund, who have been searching the wildlife reserves of Termit Massig and the neighboring Tin Toumma desert, for over a decade.
With only about 250 of the Saharan Cheetahs left in the world, very little is known about the habits of these mysterious animals, the highest density of which is thought to exist in the deserts of Algeria. From the few photographs that have been captured over the years, scientists have been able to glean a few facts.
While it resembles it cousins that reside in other parts of Africa, a closer look at the photos has revealed that the Saharan Cheetah sports a very unique color and spot patterns. Rarely seen during the day, it is a nocturnal creature - an adaptation to conserve energy from the harsh daylight heat of its habitat.
It has also learnt to live in an environment where food and water is scarce, and seems to largely survive on the Dorcas gazelle, though it also feeds on sheep, hares and even feral monkeys. The cats largely inhabit the mountainous regions where water and prey are more readily available and like their cousins, mark their territories with urine and scats.
The largest threat to their survival is the lack of suitable prey thanks to overuse and poaching. They are also victims of locals, trying to protect their herd of camels and goats from these hungry cats. The researchers have therefore made it a priority to protect the areas where the cats and their natural prey reside and also, try prevent any conflict with the herdsman - hoping that the few remaining Saharan Cheetahs will not only survive, but hopefully, also multiply.
Sources: telegraph.co,uk, dailymail.co.uk, saharaconservation.org