Cheetah

Acinonyx jubatus

Racing Against Extinction

The cheetah is the world’s fastest land mammal, with the ability to reach 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 and gives them 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 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, which is the black stripe worn on the cheekbones under the eyes! After making a kill, a cheetah has to wait 20–30 minutes before eating in order to allow its body time to cool off and its heart rate to slow down. Cheetahs cannot roar like other big cats, but chirps instead. Females give birth to litters of 1 to 6 cubs, which she hides in a den while hunting but tends to move daily to keep them safe from larger predators like lions and hyenas.

Words From the Experts

Quotes

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

Kristen

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, our two cheetahs are brothers!

Facts

Origin

Sub-Saharan Africa, and a small population in Iran

Habitat

Savannah

Size

3.5–4.5 feet long | 2–3 foot tail | 75–140 pounds

Diet

Ungulates, such as gazelle or impala

Predators

Lions, hyenas, and sometimes even baboons

Natural Defenses

High running speeds and remaining active during the day

Reproduction

Litters of up to 5 or 6 cubs

Status

Vulnerable

Life Expectancy

10–12 years

  • Saving Animals From Extinction
  • Culture Builds Florida
  • Florida Association of Zoos and Aquariums
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