Duma sio paka wa kweli! Kweli/Uongo?

This is a common question I get asked when I’m conducting guide training. The answer is FALSE. Cheetahs ARE true cats. They are just highly specialized cats. If we take the relative relationships of the cats and filter out the cats that are not found in East Africa, the cheetah is most closely related to the African wild cat (by 6.7 million years). The African wild cat is the ancestor of our domesticated cats, which means cheetahs are actually more closely related to our domesticated cats than any of the other cats. They in turn are next most closely related to the Caracal lineage which includes servals and the golden cat. That lineage split about 8.5 million years ago. The Panthera genus is the furthest related to the other cats having split about 10.8 million years ago.

You can see it on this diagram that shows the relationships between the different cats found in Africa, based on their DNA. The second diagram shows all the cat species in the world and how they are related.

A simplified family tree of Africa’s cats.
This diagram taken from Kingdon, J & Hoffman, M. 2013. Mammals of Africa, Volume V, Carnivores, Pangolins, Equids & Rhinoceroses. Bloomsbury. pg 145.

The full family tree of the world’s cats.
Taken from Nyamaguchi, N. 2010. Phylogeny & Evolution of Cats.

Written: Ethan Kinsey. Reposted with permission from: www.safariguiding.com