The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is a large cat native to Africa and central Iran.
Cheetahs Can Accelerate Faster Than Most Sports Cars
The planet’s fastest land animal is built for super speed, rather than stamina with a typical cheetah chase lasting less than a minute covering just 200-300 meters.
They can go from zero to ±100 kilometers per hour (60 miles) in three seconds flat. Their claws work rather like studs on football boots for extra grip when sprinting, while their long, muscular tail acts as a rudder, helping them make sharp turns, while chasing prey such as antelope or hares.
At full speed, the cheetah takes three strides a second, covering seven meters per stride – it’s not surprising they tire quickly, and conserve energy for much of the time. One study found that cheetahs spent only 12% of their day moving around.
Cheetah Comes From a Hindi Word , Chita, Meaning ‘Spotted One’
The spot patterns are unique to each cat and help to provide camouflage when hunting. But not every cheetah has spots. In rare cases, a recessive gene produces a blotchier coat that blurs into stripes. These so-called ‘king cheetahs’ may not look like the spotted kind, but they only differ by one gene.
Cheetahs Have a Unique Social Life Among Cats
Females are solitary, while males live together (unlike, say, a lion pride, which has multiple females). A female usually raises her cubs alone, hiding them in dens by day, and teaching them her hunting skills as they grow Cheetahs breed throughout the year. After a gestation of nearly three months, a litter of typically three or four cubs is born. Cheetah cubs are highly vulnerable to predation by other large carnivores such as hyenas and lions. They are weaned at around four months and are independent by around 20 months of age.
Male cheetahs team up with their brothers or other males to form ‘coalitions’ – groups that defend a shared territory and team up to take down larger prey.
Cheetahs are Day Hunters
The cheetah is active during the day, with peaks during dawn and dusk. With eyesight far keener than a human’s it can pick out prey from a distance. The distinctive black ‘tear marks’ running from its eyes are thought to help reflect the glare of the sun. Being active by day also reduces the risk of losing a kill to nocturnal predators, such as lions and spotted hyenas.
Cheetahs feed on small- to medium-sized prey, mostly weighing under 40 kilograms (88 pounds), and prefer ungulates (hoofed antelope) such as impala, springbok and Thomson’s gazelles. The cheetah typically stalks its prey to within 60–70 meters, charges towards it, trips it during the chase and bites its throat to suffocate it to death.
Cheetahs Do Not Roar
They lack the special two-piece bone in the throat that allows other big cats to roar, but they do produce other sounds, including growling, chirping, hissing and purring.
Cheetahs Need Lots of Space
Some coalitions live in a small 30 square kilometer territory, but a cheetah may roam a vast range of 3,000 square kilometers. They favour areas where prey animals are less dense, avoiding competition with bigger predators. Loss of habitat, mainly due to human expansion, means that areas that were once home to thousands of cheetahs can now only support a handful.
Demand for Cheetahs as Pets Fuel the Illegal Wildlife Trade
The cheetah’s awesome looks and reputation are fueling the newest threat to its survival: illegal trade. Demand for cheetahs as pets (particularly in the Arabian Gulf) means cubs are often taken from the wild. Just one in six cubs are thought to survive trafficking.
Cheetahs Could be Sprinting Towards Extinction
Once widespread in Africa, as well as the Arabian Peninsula and east India, but research has shown that cheetahs are now found in just 9% of their historic range. More than 90% of them have disappeared since 1900, and in 2016, the global cheetah population was estimated at 7,100 individuals in the wild which means they are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
In September 2022, cheetahs were reintroduced to India after being extinct in the country for 70 years. Southern Africa is a global stronghold for Cheetah, holding a tentative estimate of 3,526 mature individuals distributed across at least 11 subpopulations.
You can view cheetahs on game drives in the Mabalingwe Nature Reserve when visiting Gweda Lodge or you can visit the Cheetah Experience & Veterinary Wildlife Research Centre near Bela-Bela for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enjoy an educational tour and learn about cheetahs, see them up close, take some amazing photos, and learn how you can join us in the fight to protect these precious species.