Cheetahs on a plane!
No, this blog entry doesn’t share a title with an upcoming Samuel L. Jackson movie; it’s about a real event! There were cheetahs. And they were on a plane. And one of them was loose! Well, okay, it was just in the cargo hold. But still.
Yahoo has the story. Apparently, the pair of 1-year old female cheetahs were being transported in the cargo hold of a Delta Airlines flight from the Wildlife Safari Park in Winston, Oregon to the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee. Somehow, one got out of her cage and was eventually discovered in Atlanta by a surprised baggage handler when she opened the cargo hold (and presumably closed it again very quickly).
Happily the situation was resolved favorably for all involved, human and feline. Delta got help from the folks at the Atlanta Zoo, who tranquilized both animals and removed them from the aircraft. There was, however, a delay in passengers getting their luggage, but fortunately none was damaged by the cats. Note that cheetahs are the only cats that cannot retract their claws.
I’ve always liked cheetahs. I think as a kid I just thought it was cool that they were the fastest land animal on the planet, able to run up to 77 mph according to one book I had (peregrin falcons and some other bird species can achieve much greater speeds when performing an aerial dive). Unfortunately, cheetahs suffer from very low genetic variability, the result of going through an extremely narrow population bottleneck during the last ice age about 10,000 years ago; genetic research indicates that as few as seven cheetahs that were alive at that time passed on their genes. The animals are so genetically similar that skin grafts between unrelated cheetahs are rarely rejected. Negative consequences of this paucity of genetic variation include trouble breeding, high mortality among cubs, and poor immune systems. I wonder if their inability to retract their claws is also related?
In any event, to learn more about these fascinating and beautiful animals, see Wikipedia’s article thereon. And, hopefully, more cheetahs won’t be getting loose on planes anytime soon.