Phantom – “Morph Cheetah” by artist Guy Combes

Phantom by artist Guy Combes

Phantom by artist Guy Combes

“Back in December I was told about this incredible ‘morph’ phenomenon that has not been seen for over 90 years, and that there was a pressing need to monitor and protect it while raising awareness of the species as a whole. The last one recorded was shot in Tanzania in 1921. By ‘morph’ this means a genetic colour variation, the most well known being the ‘King’ cheetah, specimens of which have only occurred in South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Mughal Emperor of India recorded having a white cheetah presented to him in 1608, saying that the spots were of a blue colour and the whiteness of the body also inclined to blue-ishness. This suggests a chinchilla mutation which restricts the amount of pigment on the hair shaft. Red cheetahs have dark tawny spots on a golden background and some desert cheetahs are very pale to be more camouflaged in their environment. There are also reported cases of melanism or albinism, but the latter does not apply to this cheetah. The only reported cases of this morph which scientists believe is a recessive gene like the king cheetah, have been in East  Africa from the subspecies, acynonix jubatus raineyii…..

…The painting itself, aside from being the most accurate portrayal I was capable of, includes certain elements that are important to the story. The area is one that accommodates one of the highest densities of cheetah populations in East Africa. This could be as a result of a distinct lack of other larger predators that would be a threat to their existence, a large prey base, and an area relatively protected from development. I wanted to include this latter factor and have faintly suggested a settlement complete with cell phone tower on the ridge in the middle distance. This, of course, is the greatest problem that cheetahs face in our ‘human’ age. The locations is very significant here also, and the distant Ngong Hills together with the setting full moon make it very specific. The sun  and moon are intentionally symbolic here too: the moon representing Artemis, the goddess of animals and forests and the sun representing Apollo, the god of arts, amongst other things. The title, “The Phantom”, suggests an elusive, mythical entity that exists somewhere between night and day.

It’s possible that this unique morph cheetah could change scientific theories on cheetah genetics, and his existence could draw further attention to a species on the brink – my principal motivation for doing this painting. For ways you can help go to Action for Cheetahs in Kenya and Athi Kapiti Conservancy.  A higher resolution image of the painting is available to view on my website”.

– Guy Combes

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