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June 18, 2018  |  Login

Acinonyx jubatus

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What Are They Like?

One of the oldest and most beautiful members of the big cat family, the cheetah is the fastest animal on land. Large lungs and an enlarged heart enable cheetahs to run at great bursts of speed, covering distances of up to 1,500 feet in less than a minute. The cats have been known to run at a speed of 70 miles (112.65 kilometers) per hour with an acceleration rate of 0 to 64 miles per hour (0 to 103 kilometers) in just three seconds. Cheetahs weigh an average of 110-140 pounds (49.9-63.5 kilograms) and stand 2.5-3 feet (.8-.9) tall at the shoulder. They have long legs, a very flexible spine, and golden-yellow fur covered with black spots, which help serve as camouflage on the open savannas and grasslands where they hunt their prey. Cheetahs have small heads and distinctive black stripes that run from the corners of their eyes to their mouth. Their average lifespan is about 10-12 years in the wild, but cheetahs in captivity have lived up to 20 years.

Where Do They Live?

Cheetahs live in the open prairies, grasslands and savannahs of Africa. Well-camouflaged in the tall grasses of their native habitat, they use the termite mounds and small acacia trees that dot the landscape to survey their territory in search of prey.

Did You Know?
The name cheetah comes from the Sanskrit word “chita,” which means “spotted one.”

How Are Babies Made?

Cheetahs mate all year round, and females are usually pregnant for about three months, when they give birth to a litter of two to five cubs. Cheetah cubs are tiny, weighing just ten ounces when born. The cubs open their eyes about 11 days after birth, and weaning begins at about three months. During the first few weeks of the cubs’ lives, mother cheetahs move them to new hiding places every few days to protect them from larger carnivores. At about six weeks of age, the mother takes the cubs from their hiding place to accompany her as she searches for food.

What Do They Eat?

Cheetahs hunt and eat gazelles, wildebeest calves, impalas and smaller hoofed animals. Thompson’s gazelles are their favorite food. They also eat hares and ground birds. Cheetahs consume their prey very quickly before other predators can steal it.

Did You Know?
Unlike lions and tigers, Cheetahs do not roar, but they do make purring sounds.

What Do They Do?

Male and female cheetahs live very differently. Females are generally solitary, except when they are caring for their young. Baby cheetahs live with their mothers for about a year. Male cheetahs live in small groups of two to three siblings, who live and hunt together for life in a group known as a “coalition.” Sometimes, non-related males will join a coalition to help defend territory from larger predators. Cheetahs hunt in the late morning or early evening, and use their vision rather than their sense of smell. Their keen eyesight allows them to spot a potential meal—usually a herd of gazelles or a farmer’s livestock—at a great distance, and stalk it to within about 100 yards before chasing it down.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a “Red List” of species in danger globally and listed the cheetah as “Vulnerable.” This means that the big cats could become extinct if population trends continue. A combination of poaching, habitat loss and lack of genetic diversity threaten the cheetah. Today, there are fewer than 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild. The largest number of wild cheetahs live in Namibia, which supports a population of 3,000. Cheetahs also can be found in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Algeria, Pakistan and Iran. The cheetahs found in Iran are a critically endangered subspecies, the Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus), with only about 60 remaining in the wild.

What's Being Done?

In the past, tens of thousands of cheetahs were killed by farmers who shot, trapped or poisoned them to protect flocks and herds. Today, thanks to the efforts of groups like the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, conservationists are working with farmers to educate them about alternatives to killing the endangered cats. One of the most hopeful developments is the use of Kangal Anatolian shepherd dogs to guard flocks and reduce livestock loss. These huge dogs, a breed native to Turkey, have been guarding Turkish flocks for 6,000 years, and allow cheetahs and livestock to coexist in the same habitat.


Welcome to the Cheetah Conservation Fund

Cheetahs saved by Kangal Shepard dogs

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