One of the great things about schools is the way that they provide indirect education to groups of people far beyond their base of actual students. An example of this kind of extra education took place for me this morning as my son read out loud a book that he brought home from his elementary school library. It was about cheetahs, and because I’ve been watching nature documentaries since Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, I didn’t expect to hear anything new.
Boy, was I wrong about that. The book spends most of its time describing the modern cheetah that we all know about, Acinonyx jubatus. However, the book also referred to an ancient cheetah, Acinonyx pardinensis, which lived across Eurasia over two million years ago, in the Pliocene.
These giant cheetahs were as large as a lion, but leaner in build, and as fast as a modern cheetah. Imagine that.
So, if these giant cheetahs were so tough, why did they go extinct? Perhaps the kind of large prey they depended upon went extinct as well, making their larger body sizes unnecessary.
It’s a lesson that we ought to remember: Even though an animal may seem to have super-adaptive features, those features are actually a kind of super-specialization that can make the species vulnerable to extinction. We’re lucky that there are still some super-fast cheetahs still in existence. Consider supporting the Cheetah Conservation Fund to keep things that way.