Description and Characteristics
The Cheetah is the fastest land mammal in the world and can reach speeds of 80-100 km/h. However, it is only able to keep up this speed for a short period of time. The cheetah has a slender body, a small head, and long legs, which makes it ideal for speed, it is also the only cat without retractable claws which allows the claws to always be exposed, makes for better traction when running. The tail is also adapted to help maintain balance at high speeds and during quick turns.
The cheetah has a background colour of light golden yellow/tan, covered with small, round, black spots on the cheeks, forehead, crown, neck, and limbs. They have a distinctive black tear-shaped from the corner of the eye to the corner of the mouth and a mane-like black stripe running the length of their back.
Cheetahs do not roar like lions and tigers. Instead, they make birdlike chirping sounds for communication with other members of the family and they hiss when angered or threatened and purr loudly when they are content. If they are alarmed they whine or growl.
A cheetah has a good sense of smell and communicate by scenting tree trunks, bushes and termite mounds with their waste.
Cheetahs are typically solitary creatures although males sometimes live with a small group of brothers from the same litter.
The cheetah's diet consists of impala, springbok, gazelles, kob, warthogs, lesser kudu, blackbuck, hares, and game birds. Male coalitions sometimes take larger prey such as wildebeest. They generally stalk their prey until they are only about 20 meters away, then they chase, which lasts about 20 seconds. The cheetah is only successful in catching its prey in about half of all chases and they often lose their catch to lions and hyenas. Unlike other large cats, the cheetah generally hunts during the daytime.
Cheetahs are confined to parts of Eastern and Southwestern Africa. They are well adapted to dry habitats such as savanna grasslands and semi-deserts. Cheetahs prefer grasslands that offer unobstructed views of their surroundings; such habitats make it easier to detect prey as well as predators.
Size and Lifespan
Male cheetahs are slightly larger and heavier than females. Cheetahs are approx. 95 cm tall, and measures 182 cm in length. Males weigh about 55 kgs and females about 40 kg. On average a cheetah lives for 12 - 14 years in the wild
Cheetahs reach maturity at about 18th months old. The gestation period is usually 3 months and a female gives birth to between 2 and 6 cubs. They breed throughout the year and it is the female who raises the cubs. A cub stays with its mother for about one year before venturing off by itself. The male cheetah plays no part in the upbringing. Cubs are smoky grey in colour with long woolly hair, called a mantle, running along their backs.
Predators and Threats
Cheetahs are often killed by lions and hyenas, especially their cubs. Up to 80% of the cubs do not survive. In recent years human encroachment on their habitat and hunting has dramatically reduced their numbers.
Did you know
The name "Cheetah" comes from the Hindu word "Chita" meaning spotted one.