Page last updated at 00:52 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Rare cheetah captured on camera

Northwest African cheetah
Much more information is needed to better assess the animal's status

The first camera-trap photographs of the critically endangered Northwest African, or Saharan cheetah, have been obtained in an experiment in Algeria.

The images were captured as part of a project run by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Office du Parc National de l'Ahaggar (OPNA).

The animal is known with certainty to range in six countries: Algeria, Togo, Niger, Mali, Benin, and Burkina Faso.

But the total population may be fewer than 250 mature individuals.

FROM THE BBC WORLD SERVICE

The pictures come from a systematic camera-trap survey across the central Sahara.

It managed to identify four different Saharan cheetahs using spot patterns unique to each animal.

"The Saharan cheetah is critically endangered, yet virtually nothing is known about the population, so this new evidence, and the ongoing research work, is hugely significant," said ZSL's Dr Sarah Durant.

Farid Belbachir, who is running the field survey, added: "This is an incredibly rare and elusive subspecies of cheetah and current population estimates, which stand at less than 250 mature individuals, are based on guesswork.

"This study is helping us to turn a corner in our understanding, providing us with information about population numbers, movement and ecology."

Northwest African cheetah
Populations are said to be very fragmented and small



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