Ortegocactus macdougallii (2015)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (April 2015)

Even blindfolded, as he was now, the cheetah walked with the confident stride of royalty. A captive from birth, he was far from tame. The cheetah was a participant in a royal hunt, as he had been many times before.

It happened in the year 1529, on just another hot, dry morning in India. For a moment, the cheetah could discern the faintest trace of moisture in the air. The wind had turned and he made a decision. It was not long before the hunters’ favorite prey was found.

The cheetah’s eyes were uncovered as his slender back flexed unconsciously. When he was released, he ran directly toward the terrified animal. His claws dug into the hard ground. and as he ran, the cold-lusty shouts of the hunters grew fainter.

He ran on, faster than he ever had. He ran past the prey, he ran until he could run no more. He was free! This cheetah became a legend.

Right about now, I suppose you might be wondering what a cheetah has to do with the species Ortegocactus macdougallii. Most cat species fit into two genera, Panthera or Felis. A cheetah is one of the few exceptions, as its genus is Acinonyx.

Ortegocactus macdougallii is also an exception. It is unlike any other known cactus species. There is something a little sad about this species, a relentless uniformity, even down to their strange orange-brown markings. It is this uniformity that so reminds me of cheetahs.

In a biology book, I read about something called a “bottleneck effect.” As I understood it, this effect is the result of a severe reduction in a breeding population. The cause of this crisis could be a disease or any number of other reasons. The final result, however, is a lack of genetic diversity.

This effect was listed as the probable cause of the lack of diversity in the present cheetah population. Perhaps this also happened to the species Ortegocactus macdougallii.