Description: The Cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal. It has been recorded at speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour over a short distance. The Cheetah is a large, slender cat with a characteristic sloped back. Its coat varies in color from yellowish-tan to orange. Cheetahs have black spots throughout their bodies. They also have two, black tear drop shaped markings that extend from the eyes to help keep the sun out. Cheetahs have long legs that enable their incredible speed. Cheetahs have long tails that may measure three feet in length. They weigh between 75-140 pounds.
Diet/Hunting: The Cheetah is a carnivore. They stalk prey during the day until the distance between it and the intended prey is about 50 yards before engaging in the chase. While Cheetahs can run 70 miles per hour, they average about 45 miles per hour over a distance of several miles. Cheetahs can only reach top speed for about 20 seconds. A Cheetah will pounce on its prey before suffocating it by clamping down on its windpipe. Cheetahs have to eat their prey fast, as roving packs of hyenas often steal their kills. Cheetahs prefer medium-sized prey such as Springbok, Impalas and Gazelles. They also take Warthogs, Oryx, and Kudu. Cheetahs do not return to their kills or eat carrion.
Young/Reproduction: Female Cheetahs give birth to 2-8 cubs after a gestation period of a little more than 3 months. Cubs have gray fur and weigh less than one pound at birth. Most Cheetahs cubs do not survive their first weeks of life. They are often the victims of lions and hyenas. Young Cheetahs stay with their mothers for about a year. Male cubs often leave their mothers an form groups of two or three males. This group will live, hunt and claim territory together. The average life-span of a Cheetah is only 7 years.
Communication: Cheetahs are among the more vocal members of the cat family. They chirp, grunt, meow, bark, and purr. Cheetahs, however, do not roar.
Habitat/Range: Cheetahs once ranged throughout Africa and western Asia. Today they are found in the plains and savannas of sub-Saharan Africa and the desert region of Iran. Biologists believe there may be no more than 200 left in northeastern Iran.
Status: Cheetah populations have declined precipitously in past decades. Both hunting and habitat destruction have played a major role in its decline. Their pelts are prized by hunters and killing a Cheetah has historically been viewed as a sign of great courage and hunting skill. In addition, with the population explosions in Asia and Africa, Cheetah habitat has been destroyed to accommodate the growing numbers of people. Cheetah populations have been severely fragmented (populations occur in isolated patches) which has led to inbreeding (related cheetahs breeding together). Cubs born from related parents often have trouble fighting off disease which leads to their death or weakens the genetic pool (weak Cheetahs are born). While as many as 100,000 Cheetahs existed in 1900, no more than 10,000-15,000 survive today. The southwest African nation of Namibia is believed to have the largest population. Several organizations such as the DeWildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre, and the Cheetah Conservation Fund have been established to help save this magnificent mammal.