World’s fastest land animal
The cheetah is capable of speeds over 110 km/hour in just over 3 seconds – faster than a sports car. At top speed, each stride is 7 meters long and their paws only touch the ground twice during each stride. But it can only maintain this speed for a short spurt, so they have to catch their prey very quickly.
The cheetah has a long, muscular tail that has a flat shape. The tail functions like a rudder on a boat and is used to help control the cheetah’s balance and direction when running very fast.
A cheetah’s foot pads are hard and less rounded than the other cats. The pads and short, blunt claws – considered semi-retractable – function like tire treads providing increased traction for fast, sharp turns.
Cheetahs will take up to 150 breathes per minute in a high speed chase (nearly triple their normal respiratory rate).
Each cheetah has a unique spot pattern
The cheetah has a coat that is yellowish tan to greyish white, and is covered with approximately 2,000 solid black spots. Cheetahs reach 70 – 90 centimeters at the shoulder, and weigh 21 – 72 kg.
Cheetahs have “tear marks” that run from the inside corners of their eyes down to the outside edges of their mouth. These marks help reflect the glare of the sun during the day…just like the black marks on the faces of football players.
With a small rounded head, slender body, flexible spine, long legs and a long spotted tail, it is quite different from all other cats and is the only member of its genus, Acinonyx.
There are five main sub-species of cheetahs: Southern African, East African, Northwest African, Northeast African and Asiatic. Each has similar genetics and similar markings, with the exception of the King Cheetah. This striking cheetah has a rare mutation and has cream-coloured fur, big dark spots and three wide dark stripes from neck to tail.
Many babies do not survive past the first year
A litter varies from 2 to 8 cubs, but cubs are often the target of other predators. As the mother cares for her cubs by herself, she alone must ensure that the cubs are fed, protected from predators, and taught skills they will need to hunt and survive in the wild.
Until about three months, cheetah cubs have a thick silvery-grey mantle running down their back. The mantle camouflages the cubs by imitating the look of an aggressive animal called a honey badger (below). This mimicry may help deter predators such as lions, hyenas, and eagles from attempting to kill cheetahs.
Cheetahs have large ranges
Unlike many other cat species, cheetahs are diurnal, and hunt during the day. Their remarkable eyesight and speed help them to pursue prey, often observed from afar. A naturally alert animal, the cheetah is likely to scour the horizon, even while resting. Cheetahs have a wide field of vision – 50% greater than humans. They can see objects in detail from more than 3 miles away.
Cheetah move in very large ranges, and while they often have a home base, their movement can be extensive, especially if they are facing threats. Cheetahs, especially the males, are sociable and stay together in ‘coalition”. Males are territorial and have home ranges of 1600 square kilometres. While males will mark their territory, mostly by urination, as a message to other males, they also select territories that ensure the best access to females.
Females are not territorial. Pregnant or nursing females are solitary, and become the sole parent involved in raising young cubs. Mother cheetah will stay with her cubs until they mature and seek their own territories.
Cheetahs have superb daytime vision
Cheetahs can spot prey up to 5km in the daytime, but they have very poor vision at night.