So far, the most compelling argument against the identification of Àmọ̀tẹ́kùn as cheetah came from those who are of the opinion that cheetah is not native to Yorùbáland because of her geography and only a few is found in the extreme North of Nigeria. This statement is obviously false, but I want to commend the opinion of these people because at least, they did some research.
However, fact they say speaks for itself. If you look closely at the picture below, you will see we have four major colours representing the distribution of cheetah all over the world. These species are:
Southeast African cheetah, represented with the blue colour. Asiatic cheetah, represented by the green colour. Northeast African cheetah, represented with the brown colour. Northwest African cheetah, represented with the purple and lilac colour.
A quick look at the picture again reveals that we had two species of the big cat call cheetah in Nigeria:
Northeast African cheetah (A. j. soemmeringii) (Fitzinger, 1855) represented with the brown colour.
Northwest African cheetah (A. j. hecki) (Hilzheimer, 1913) represented by the purple and lilac colour.
This is from Wikipedia. You can Google it as well or follow this link: Cheetah
Now to the habitat argument
The main thrust of the argument of this people is that cheetah lives in Savannah grass land. And since we mostly have tropical rainforest here, it attests to the fact that we don’t have the animal in Yorùbá land.
First, the argument from habitat is lame. It pictures humans and animals as stationary like trees whereas the race for survival drives animals to adapt to places different from their natural habitat. It is also on record that Yorùbá of old traveled as far as Sokoto and Timbuktu to trade. To knock the argument down, if it is only animals in our immediate environment we know of, then Yoruba should not have word for ostrich (which we call ògòǹgò) because it does not dwell in rain forest. More, not all part of Yorùbáland is tropical forest. I will come to this later, but the onus of my argument here is that if any animal lives anywhere within what is today known as Niger area, Benin down to Togo, Yoruba will likely have word for it.
To say cheetah only lives in savanna grassland itself is to be half with the truth. According to same Wikipedia:
“The cheetah inhabits a variety of habitats. In Africa, it has been observed in dry forests, scrub forests, and savannahs. In prehistoric times, the cheetah was distributed throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. Gradually, it vanished from Europe. Nearly 500 years ago, the cheetah was still common throughout Africa, though it avoided deserts and tropical forests.”
Hugh Clapperton who was one of the earliest explorers into the hinterland of Yoruba countryside described the geography of what he saw in 1926. From Badagry to Eruwa is tropical rain forest, then the geography of the country changed into what we can call dry or scrub forest from Shaki down to Ọ̀yọ́ Ile, to Ilorin, to Nupeland which Yoruba refers to as Èǹpe or Tápà. (See pages 162 to 163 screenshot in the comment box)
The picture below evidently puts part of Yorùbá land from Ilorin to Jebba, Bariba land and Nupe land, in the region where cheetah once thrived.
Then why did cheetah vanish?
Cheetah and leopard were hunted for glory in the past. More, it is at a disadvantage of surviving being unable to adapt to rain forest like leopard but scrub forest. Its hideout is quickly discovered and killed, unlike leopard that has the forest to hide.
Cheetah, unlike leopard thus went into extinction earlier and this seems to explain the reason why its name in Yorùbá is conflated with leopard’s.
Àmọ̀tẹ́kùn is cheetah and Ẹkùn is leopard. We don’t have a word for Tiger in Yorùbá land because the animal call tiger is not native to Africa.