Cheetah

(Acinonyx jubatus)


Cheetah

An elegant mover, the cheetah is a lean running cat with a body built for speed and agility. The cheetah can reach speeds of 70 miles per hour and is the fastest animal on this planet. The cheetah has dark, round spots on fur black “tear lines” that start just under the corner of each eye, and run the length of its nose, to the edge of its mouth.

Physical Characteristics

  • Short golden-colored fur with dark, round spots
  • White underbelly with no spots
  • Black tear lines
  • Long tail about 25 to 30” in length
  • Black rings on end of tail
  • Approx. 3.5 to 4.5’ tall
  • Weight 75 to 150 lbs
  • Long legs
  • Lean body with deep chest
  • Small, rounded ears
  • Paws with rounded pads and sharp claws that only semi-retract
  • Small head with high set eyes

The cheetah has adaptations that support speed in short bursts. Large nostrils and an enlarged heart and lungs help circulate oxygen more efficiently through their bodies. Their long tails are used as rudders to help steer and turn at high speeds. These physical characteristics give the cheetah an advantage over its prey and supports their speed, their main asset when hunting. Cheetahs have excellent vision which is used over their sense of smell when hunting. Their claws only partially retract which enables them to maintain traction when running.

Habitat/Range

The cheetah is found in Africa in open savannas.

Diet

Cheetahs are carnivores and prey mostly on hoofed animals that are small in size and weight about 90lbs or less. Examples of their prey are antelope, gazelles, impalas, zebras, wildebeests, hares, small rodents and birds. Cheetahs hunt alone or in small groups. The larger prey are easier to catch when more than one cheetah is working to capture and kill the quarry.

The cheetah will sneak up on its victim, and lunge into a chase, batting down its prey with a swipe of its powerful paw. Once the prey is grounded, the cheetah will suffocate the animal with a fierce bite to the neck. A cheetah must eat its prey quickly, otherwise scavengers such as lions, leopards, vultures, hyenas or jackals may steal its meal. Speed is the main attribute that enables a cheetah to catch its prey. Its speed is only good in short bursts, so staying close to the target by stalking is part of the cheetah’s hunting strategy. The cheetah hunts during the day. The “tear lines” help reflect the sun and improve vision for the cheetah in daylight hours. The spotted coat of the cheetah acts as camouflage and helps the cat remain undetected as it approaches its objective.

Voice

Unlike other large cats, cheetahs cannot roar. They can purr, hiss, growl and whine.

Predators

The cheetah’s numbers are dropping due to habitat change. Disease, less available prey to feed on, and cub mortality are some of the reasons that cheetahs are becoming extinct in some regions. Most cheetah cubs don’t survive the first three months of life. Lions and hyenas prey on cheetah cubs. Lions and leopards will sometimes even prey on cheetahs.

Behavior and Lifecycle

Cheetahs live about 10 to 12 years in the wild and longer in captivity. The females tend to be more solitary than their male counterparts. The males often travel and hunt in small groups. Females and males may roam together during mating season for a short time, but the female will raise the cubs on her own.

Sexual maturity is reached at two years of age. They can mate anytime of the year. The gestation period for cheetahs is about 90 days. A typical litter is three cubs. The cubs are born with their eyes shut, and will remain hidden for the first 6 weeks of life. After that they are able to follow their mother to hunt and move around. They nurse or are suckled for 2 to 3 months. They start eating some meat as early as 3 to 4 weeks of age. The cubs are born with gray colored fur. By 3.5 to 4 months, the cubs become tawny colored, spotted, and banding appears on their tails. The cubs mature and continue to hunt with their mother until about 1.5 to 2 years.

One of the most important behaviors a mother will teach her cubs is how to hunt. The first year of their lives, the cubs are learning hunting skills and playing games to improve their techniques. Male cheetahs may split off from their mother to live on their own or may live with littermates or with a group of other males. These groups are called coalitions.

What is the difference between a cheetah and a leopard?

Leopards have round spots and black “tear lines” that start just under the corner of each eye and run the length of their nose to the edge of the mouth. This helps differentiate them from the leopards markings. The cheetah’s body is leaner and lankier than a leopard’s body. The cheetah also has a longer tail and smaller jaws.

Leopards have a more complex pattern of square or rosette shaped spots on their fur. Their bodies are more substantial which takes away from their speed, but it enables them to lunge into surprise attacks on their prey and drag their dinner up a tree to eat it.

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Interesting Facts about Cheetahs
  • The cheetah is the only big cat that can purr while they inhale.
  • Cheetahs cannot roar like other big cats.

    Cheetahs cannot climb trees

  • The cheetah is the fastest animal on the planet with a top speed of 70 mph.

  • The word cheetah comes from a ancient Hindi Sanskrit word “citraka”, meaning “spotted” or “speckled.” They were once tamed and used for hunting in India.

  • Cheetahs can go from 0 to 45 mph in 2.5 seconds.



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