Cheetahs made a run for it from North America

The cheetah popluation took two huge hits while migrating from North America
The cheetah popluation took two huge hits while migrating from North America

Cheetahs are known for being the fastest land mammal over short distances, but they ran a marathon to get to where they are today.

Now at home on the African plains, the modern day cheetah's ancestors started a migration from North America 100,000 years ago, researchers say.

A study published in Genome Biology today, says that decision was a major setback for the species, marking a major drop in their gene pool.

Cheetah are found across eastern and southern Africa, but are highly endangered because of their small, free-ranging population and inbreeding.

Researchers from St Petersburg State University found the cheetah is descended from a relative of the American puma and their fossil record stretches across the Americas, Europe and Asia.

They say the species had "population bottlenecks" where their numbers dropped off quickly because of environmental factors.

The first was around 100,000 years ago when the animals started their trek toward Asia across the Beringian landbridge, then south to Africa.

The population was hit with dwindling numbers and a smaller gene pool because of the individuals' vast territory boundaries of between 480-1280 square kilometres, which increased incestuous mating.

The second was between 10 and 12,000 years ago where their numbers dropped further when a glacial retreat in North America wiped out a massive number of large mammals, including cheetah and puma.

A male Namibian cheetah called Chewbaaka and six other wild cheetah from Tanzania and Namibia had their genomes sequenced to give researchers a better idea of where they've come from and their genetic changes.

A total of 18 cheetah genomes showed damaging mutations that could harm sperm development and could explain why the animal has a large proportion of defective sperm and low breeding success.

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