The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is an oddball member of the cat family (Felidae). They possess the ability of blinding speed, but they lack advanced climbing abilities. The cheetah is the world's fastest land animal; able to reach speeds between 70-75 mph (112-120 km/h) in short sprints, covering distances up to 1,500 ft (460 m). They are able to accelerate from 0-62 mph (103 km/h) in just under three seconds. That's faster than most supercars and even Daytona's Impala.
Protection Status: Vulnerable
Height: 35 in (90 cm)
Length: 45-53 in (1.1-1.4 m)
Tail: 26-33 in (65-84 cm)
Weight: 77-143 lbs (35-65 kg)
The cheetah's chest is deep and its waist is narrow. Their coarse, short fur is tan with round black spots measuring from 0.75-1.25 in (2-3 cm) across, giving them some camouflage while hunting. The cheetah has a small head with high-set eyes that provide binocular vision. Black "tear marks" run from the corner of their eyes down the sides of their noses to their mouth. This keeps the sunlight out of their eyes, to aid in hunting, and seeing long distances.
The cheetah's paws have semi-retractable claws, offering extra grip in its high-speed pursuits. Their long tail is also used as a counter-weight balance for sharp cornering at high speeds.
Unlike "true" big cats, the cheetah can purr as it inhales, but cannot roar. By contrast, the other big cats can roar but cannot purr, except while exhaling. However, the cheetah is still considered by some (including us) to be the smallest of the big cats.
Cubs weigh from 5.3-11 oz (150-300 g) at birth. Unlike some other cats, the cheetah is born with its characteristic spots. Cubs are also born with a downy underlying fur on their necks, called a mantle, extending to mid-back. This gives them a mane or Mohawk-type appearance; this fur is shed as the cheetah grows older.
Life span is around twelve years in the wild, but up to twenty years in captivity.
The King Cheetah:
The King Cheetah is a rare mutation of the regular cheetah, characterized by a distinct fur pattern. They have larger, blotchy, or merged spots with "racing stripes" down their backs.
The cheetah thrives in areas with vast expanses of land where prey is abundant. The cheetah likes to live in an open biotope, such as semi-desert, prairie, and thick brush, though it can be found in a variety of habitats. In Namibia, for example, it lives in grasslands, savannahs, areas of dense vegetation, and mountainous terrain.
Males are very sociable and will group together for life, usually with their brothers in the same litter; although if a cub is the only male in the litter then two or three lone males may group up, or a lone male may join an existing group. These groups are called coalitions.
They are also very territorial. Females' home ranges can be very large and trying to build a territory around several females' ranges is impossible to defend. Instead, males choose the points at which several of the females' home ranges overlap, creating a much smaller space, which can be properly defended against intruders while maximizing the chance of reproduction.
Females live in a home range. These overlap with other females' home ranges, often those of their daughters, mothers, or sisters. Females always hunt alone, although cubs will accompany their mothers to learn to hunt once they reach the age of five to six weeks.
The females are also sexually promiscuous and often have cubs by many different males.
Chirping: When cheetahs attempt to find each other, or a mother tries to locate her cubs, it uses a high-pitched barking called chirping. The chirps made by a cheetah cub sound more like a bird chirping, and so are termed chirping.
Churring or stuttering: This vocalization is emitted by a cheetah during social meetings. A churr can be seen as a social invitation to other cheetahs, an expression of interest, uncertainty, or appeasement or during meetings with the opposite sex (although each sex churrs for different reasons).
Growling: This vocalization is often accompanied by hissing and spitting and is exhibited by the cheetah during annoyance, or when faced with danger.
Yowling: This is an escalated version of growling, usually displayed when danger worsens.
Purring: This is made when the cheetah is content, usually during pleasant social meetings (mostly between cubs and their mothers).
Diet and Hunting:
The cheetah is a carnivore, eating mostly mammals under 88 lb (40 kg), including the Thomson's Gazelle, the Grant's gazelle, the springbok and the impala. The young of larger mammals such as wildebeests and zebras are taken at times, and adults too, when the cats hunt in groups. Guineafowl and hares are also prey.
They hunt during the day, and by sight rather than smell. Their kill ratio is 1:2.
Interspecific Predatory Relationships:
Cheetahs traded brute power for raw speed, so they cannot defend themselves against most of Africa's other predator species. They usually avoid fighting and will surrender a kill immediately to even a single hyena, rather than risk injury. Because cheetahs rely on their speed to obtain their meals, any injury that slows them down could essentially be life threatening. They avoid competition by hunting at different times of the day and by eating immediately after the kill.
Founded in Namibia in 1990, the Cheetah Conservation Fund's mission is to be an internationally recognized centre of excellence in research and education on cheetahs and their eco-systems, working with all stakeholders to achieve best practice in the conservation and management of the world's cheetahs. The CCF has also set stations throughout South Africa in order to keep the conservation effort going. The Cheetah Conservation Foundation, a South African based organisation, was set up in 1993 for cheetah protection.
> Cheetah Conservation Fund: www.cheetah.org/?nd=home
> National Geographic's Cheetah Page: animals.nationalgeographic.com…
> San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes on the Cheetah: www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbyte…
> Similar, but from the National Zoo: nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Afr…
> Lowry Park Zoo's Cheetah Page: www.lowryparkzoo.com/bio_safar…
> Cheetah's Chirping/Meowing: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3K-0om…
> A Cheetah Cam: nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Afr…