Cheetah

Acinonyx jubatus

Racing Against Extinction

The cheetah is the world’s fastest land mammal, reaching speeds over 60 miles per hour. These cats are threatened for many reasons, including habitat loss, low genetic diversity, and persecution by farmers who kill cheetahs that they think kill their livestock.

About the Species

The cheetah is built for speed. It can reach speeds up to 60 miles per hour, but can only hold this for short distances.

The cheetah's body and skeleton are extremely specialized. The cheetah has a flexible spine, which allows it to actually place its hind legs in front of its forelegs, allowing for larger strides. The cheetah has a stride length of about 22 feet! Cheetah's have semi-retractable claws, unlike most other cats, which acts like a cleat to allow them excellent grip when running. The cheetah also has enlarged nostrils and lungs, allowing for greater air intake. Cheetahs can only sustain these high speeds for a short amount of time, and therefore must get quite close to their prey by stalking it. The spots of the cheetah allow it to blend in with the savannah grasses. The tear streak, one of the most noticeable characteristics of the cheetah, serves to help shield their eyes from the sun. Professional athletes copy this by wearing eye black! After making a kill, a cheetah has to wait 20 to 30 minutes before eating in order to allow its body time to cool off and its heart rate to slow down. Cheetahs cannot roar, but chirp instead. Females give birth to litters of 1 to 6 cubs. She hides these cubs in a den while she hunts, but will usually move them everyday in order to keep them safe from larger predators such as lions and hyenas. When cubs leave their mother, they will often stay together for another six months.

Words From the Experts

Quotes

No two cheetahs have the same spot pattern. The easiest way to tell our two cheetahs apart is their tails. One has a flatter tail that tapers off at the end.

Tarah

Did You Know?

Cheetahs have a unique social structure. Males will often form coalitions, while females remain solitary. These male coalitions are sometimes made up of brothers, although this is not always the case. At the Central Florida Zoo, the two cheetahs are brothers.

Facts

Origin

Sub-Saharan Africa, and a small population in Iran

Habitat

Savannah

Size

About 3.5-4.5 feet long, with a 2-3 foot long tail / weigh between 75 and 140 pounds, with males being slightly larger than females

Diet

Prey includes small to medium ungulates, such as gazelle and impala

Predators

Cheetah cub mortality is extremely high, with cubs being predated upon by lions, hyenas, and sometimes even baboons.

Natural Defenses

Cheetahs are active during the day, which is probably an adaptation to avoid the larger nocturnal predators, such as lions, hyenas, and leopards. These animals will often steal the kill of a cheetah.

Reproduction

Female cheetahs give birth to litters of up 5 or 6 cubs.

Status

Vulnerable

Life Expectancy

10-12 years

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