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Lot 447

A very rare King cheetah skin

mid 20th century

Estimate: £6,000 - £10,000
Hammer price: £6,005
Bidding ended. Lot has been sold.

The King Cheetah is the most enigmatic, and the rarest, of all the big cats. Experts don't know quite what to make of it. Is it a species allied in some way to the ordinary cheetah, is it a particularly remarkable and dramatic colour morph, or is it something different entirely? Very different in temperament, size and colouring to the familiar cheetah, it is so excessively rare and infrequently found or seen that proper study has proved virtually impossible.

The King Cheetah first came to attention in the 1920s when a then unique specimen was found. So remarkable was it that zoologists were unable to decide exactly what it was, and for decades the specimen was virtually forgotten. Over the years a very few additional skins turned up but these too proved difficult to classify.

The very beautiful markings have a number of truly remarkable features. Instead of being spotted all over (as is the case with the ordinary cheetah) these enigmatic animals have exquisite stripes that run along the centre of their backs. But most extraordinary of all is the tail. Unlike any other cat species it shows stripes that run half way down its length, while the rest of the tail is banded!  It's intricate markings, standard across all King Cheetahs recorded, may well be a throwback to the cheetah's original coat patterning before retreat of the heavily forested, wooded habitats that long prevailed.

This particular skin has a remarkable provenance. It is the property of Lena Godsall Bottriell, a lady who has devoted much of her life to chasing down every scrap of information concerning the King Cheetah culminating in 1987 in her celebrated book The King Cheetah. Beguiled by the knowledge that no-one knew exactly what the animal was, and the fact that for decades its very existence had remained in oblivion. she determined to put on record everything that was known. At some point in her research she acquired this skin which comes with complete documentation.

Although somewhat distressed, it remains a piece of great beauty and represents a truly unique opportunity for a collector to acquire a specimen of the most mysterious of all the big cats.


Natural History

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