||30 inches at the shoulder
||110 to 140 pounds
||10 to 20 years
||90 to 95 days
||Eagles, humans, hyenas, lions
The lion is said to be majestic, the leopard ferocious and
shrewd. But elegant and graceful best describes the cheetah.
The cheetah is smaller than the other two cats, but by far the
fastest at speeds of 70 miles per hour it can run faster than
all other animals.
Now restricted to sub-Saharan Africa, wild cheetahs once
were found in most of Africa, the plains of southern Asia, the
Middle East and India.
The cheetah is built for speed. It has long, slim, muscular
legs, a small, rounded head set on a long neck, a flexible
spine, a deep chest, nonretractable claws, special pads on its
feet for traction and a long, tail for balance. Although fast,
the cheetah cannot run at full speed for long distances (100
yards is about the limit) because it may overheat.
Cheetahs have distinctive black "tear stripes"
that connect from the inside corner of each eye to the mouth
that may serve as an antiglare device for daytime hunting.
Cheetahs are found in open and partially open savannas.
Cheetah mothers spend a long time teaching their young how
to hunt small live antelopes are brought back to the cubs and
released so they can chase and catch them. Unlike most other
cats, the cheetah usually hunts during daylight, preferring
early morning or early evening, but is also active on moonlit
Cheetahs do not roar like lions, but they purr, hiss, whine
and growl. They also make a variety of contact calls, the most
common is a birdlike chirping sound.
Once a cheetah has made a kill, it eats quickly and keeps
an eye out for scavengers lions, leopards, hyenas, vultures
and jackals will occasionally take away their kills. Although
cheetahs usually prey on the smaller antelopes such as
Thomson's gazelles and impalas, they can catch wildebeests and
zebras if hunting together. They also hunt hares and other
small mammals and birds.
Although known as an animal of the open plains that relies
on speed to catch its prey, research has shown that the
cheetah depends on cover to stalk prey. The cheetah gets as
close to the prey as possible, then in a burst of speed tries
to outrun its quarry. Once the cheetah closes in, it knocks
the prey to the ground with its paw and suffocates the animal
with a bite to the neck.
Caring for the Young
With a life span of 10 to 12 years, the cheetah is
basically a solitary animal. At times a male will accompany a
female for a short while after mating, but most often the
female is alone or with her cubs. Two to four cubs are born in
a secluded place. Their eyes do not open for a week or two,
and they are helpless at first. When the mother is hunting,
she leaves them hidden, but by 6 weeks of age they are able to
follow her. They are suckled for 2 to 3 months but begin to
eat meat as early as 3 weeks.
By 4 months the cheetah cub is a tawny yellow and almost
completely spotted; the tail has bands of black and by
adulthood a white tip. The grayish mantle disappears more
slowly; the last traces are still visible when the cubs are
adult-sized at 15 months.
A shy creature that roams widely, the cheetah is not seen as
easily as some other cats. Never numerous, cheetahs have
become extinct in many areas, principally due to shrinking
habitat, loss of species to prey upon, disease and a high rate
of cub mortality. In some areas 50 to 75 percent of all
cheetah cubs die before 3 months.
Did you know?
- The name cheetah comes from an Indian word meaning
- The young cub has a long gray-blue coat and a black
underbelly that rapidly lightens and becomes spotted.
- Early peoples trained cheetahs for hunting, and many
civilizations depicted them in their art and in written
- Cheetahs were so popular that Akbar the Great of India
was said to have kept a stable of about 1,000.