About 12,000 years ago, a mass extinction occurred that eliminated 75 per cent 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.
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. In addition, cheetah show difficulty in captive breeding and a susceptibility to disease.
Suitable levels of genetic diversity are vital to a population’s ability to adapt and overcome environmental changes and unexpected disasters. 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.