It is an iconic predator on the plains of Africa, streaking after its prey at speeds of up to 100km/h.

But despite appearing in countless wildlife documentaries about the continent, it appears the cheetah is not really African at all.

New research has found that the cheetah actually migrated from North America around 100,000 years ago during the last Ice Age before becoming isolated in Africa.

A genetic study has found the cats evolved from the North American puma and made an epic journey across a landbridge into Asia and then travelled south to Africa.

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Their populations dwindled during the migrations which led to a dramatic reduction in their gene pool as the animals were forced into incestuous mating.

Researchers from St Petersburg State University in Russia sequenced the genome of seven cheetahs from Tanzania and Namibia, including a male called Chewbaaka.

The endangered species is currently found in the wild in eastern and southern Africa.

The study found a total of 18 cheetah genes showed damaging mutations. One in particular AKAP4, was found to suffer a large number of mutations that could harm sperm development.

This, the researchers say, could help to explain why cheetahs have such difficulty breeding.

The animals appear to have lost a considerable number of immune related genes.

They say the findings, which are published in the journal Genome Biology, could be used to help in future efforts to improve cheetah numbers.

- Daily Mail