The king cheetah is a mutation of the cheetah, characterized by a distinct fur pattern. A recessive gene must be inherited from both parents for this mutation to occur, making the pattern very rare.
King cheetahs were first noted in what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), in 1926. In 1927, naturalist Reginald Innes Pocock declared it a separate species; he reversed this decision in 1939 due to lack of evidence.
From 1927 to 1974, the king cheetah was reported only six times in the wild. A live king cheetah was finally photographed in 1974, in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. By 1987, thirty-eight specimens had been recorded, in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa’s Transvaal province.
The king cheetah’s species status was finally resolved in May of 1981. Two spotted sisters gave birth at The Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre in South Africa; each litter contained one king cheetah. The sisters had both mated with a wild-caught male from the Transvaal area. Further king cheetahs were later born at the Centre.