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This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Hunting with Cheetahs: A Royal Sport of the Past

Emperor Akbar hunting with cheetahs.
By Painter at the Court of Akbar c. 1602.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
It is hard to believe now, but beginning at least a few thousand years ago, humans trained cheetahs as to hunt with them. When we first heard of this, the little bit of information we had raised several questions: When, where, why, how? And of course, What? To understand hunting with cheetahs, let’s start with the cheetahs themselves.

A few cheetah facts

The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, is the world’s fastest land animal. The common name “cheetah” actually describes the cat’s spotted coat. It comes from a Hindi word (chita) meaning “spotted” or “sprinkled.” When you picture a cheetah, you probably see a cat with a compact head with black “tear lines” on the face, a small waist, long legs, and a superflexible spine—adaptations that help them run at up to 54 miles per hour for short distances. This remarkable speed is what allows them to catch their prey.

Prince Hunting with Cheetah.India, West Bengal, 1764 or earlier. Opaque watercolor on gold paper. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Public domain.
Prince Hunting with Cheetah.
India, West Bengal, 1764 or earlier.
Opaque watercolor on gold paper.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
These cats are found in much of sub-Saharan Africa, where they hunt on grassy plains and open forests. The Asiatic cheetah (A. jubatus venaticus) is now critically endangered, but it was once found in India and southwestern Asia. There may be only 60 Asiatic cheetahs alive today, all in Iran. The Asiatic subspecies will be the focus of much of this post.

It all starts in Egypt

Mongol hunter and cheetah in Tsonjin Boldog, Tuv aimag, Mongolia. Enerelt at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0].
Mongol hunter and cheetah in
Tsonjin Boldog, Tuv aimag, Mongolia.
Enerelt at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0].
The Egyptians did not only domesticate the felines that would become house cats, they also tamed cheetahs, starting in 1550 BC or earlier. They taught cheetahs to hunt with humans, but they didn’t do it the way you might expect, by catching cubs and raising them among humans. No, they needed cats that already knew how to hunt, and that meant capturing adults to be tamed and trained. During the hunt, the trained cheetahs were kept blindfolded until the right moment. After prey had been flushed out, the cats were let go to run it down.

From Egypt, this hunting method spread to Persia and India, where the practice continued at least into the 20th century (and where the cheetahs were often called “hunting leopards”). Taking adults from the wild likely played a role in the Asiatic cheetah’s quick decline, and as local cheetahs became rare in India, the wealthy imported African cheetahs for use in hunting.

How cheetahs were caught and tamed

An account quoted in the book Wild Cats of the World reveals how adult cheetahs were caught and tamed. It started with staking out a tree that the cats liked to scratch. Nooses were set around the tree to snare the cheetah who came to sharpen his claws. Once the animal was captured, “Women and children [were] told to sit all day long close to the animals, and keep up a conversation so that they should get accustomed to the human voice.” It would take months to train cheetahs for hunting.

Hunting with cheetahs in India, c. 1860. From the Illustrated History of the British Empire in India and the East. Vol. 1. public domain.
Hunting with cheetahs in India, c. 1860. From the
Illustrated History of the British Empire in India
and the East. Vol. 1.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A sport for the wealthy

When we’re talking about hunting with cheetahs, we’re not talking about subsistence hunting. We’re talking about a sport practiced by the wealthy, and often by royalty. Akbar the Great (1542–1605), a Mughal emperor, was the first to keep hunting cheetahs in India. He was presented with his first cheetah, a cat named Fatehbaz, in 1555. He supposedly had 1,000 cheetahs at one time and 9,000 over the course of his reign, but these numbers may be inflated. He used the cheetahs to hunt blackbucks, chinkaras, and antelopes. By the way, he captured adult cheetahs not with nooses as described above but with trapdoors that dropped the cats into pits.
Cheetahs with handlers at Baroda, Gujarat, 1890s. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Cheetahs with handlers at Baroda, Gujarat, 1890s.
The cheetahs belonged to Gaekwar Sayaki Rao III
(ruled 1875-1939), 12th Maharaja of Baroda.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The practice of hunting with cheetahs spread into Russia and Mongolia, as well as Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. There are reports of an Armenian ruler who had 100 cheetahs in 1474.

Hunting technique, as seen in the 1939 video below, involved wheeling blindfolded cheetahs in on carts. In some works of art, cheetahs are depicted riding on horseback behind their handlers. The cheetahs would be gotten close to the prey and then released for the chase.


And today...

While hunting with cheetahs largely ended in the 20th century, it still goes on in some places, among those humans who have the time and resources to do it. Notably, a YouTube video shows a Saudi man hunting deer with a cheetah. We think that, given the cheetah's vulnerable conservation status (as listed by the IUCN), taking them from the wild for use as human entertainment is not okay. Such magnificent felines deserve better.

Sources



Sunquist, Mel, and Fiona Sunquist. Wild Cats of the World. University of Chicago Press, 2002. (p. 20)

Wikipedia. “Asiatic cheetah.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asiatic_cheetah






2 comments:

  1. The way animals have been treated, from the beginning of time to even today, just turns your stomach. Fascinating history lesson though!

    ReplyDelete