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Cheetah Fact File

Appearance

The cheetah has a streamlined body covered with fur that ranges from light tan to gold. This is covered with solid black spots. These spots distinguish them from jaguars or leopards who have open rosettes which look like a ring.

A variant known as the king cheetah exists which has larger spots and on the back these merge to form stripes.

Their head is small and the muzzle is short. These features are adaptations that help them when running at high speed. Their nostrils are large to allow them to take in additional air. Running from the eye, which is amber coloured, down the face and under their mouth is a thin black stripe. This may help reflect glare and to focus on prey when running.

On the tail is five to six black rings and the tip is coloured either white or black. The tail serves as a signal for cubs to follow and as a rudder to change direction when running.

They have long, thin legs and on each foot they have semi-retractable claws.

Their length is between 1 and 1.5m (45-60in) long and they stand 76cm (30in) tall at the shoulder. A cheetah’s weight is between 20 and 72kg (45-160lbs).

Diet

The cheetah is a carnivorous species. Most of their diet is medium sized gazelles. In addition they will eat birds and other small mammals like rabbits.

With the expansion of human habitations they have begun to eat some livestock but most of what they take is older and sick animals that are easy to catch.

They use their high speed to catch prey. As a result once they catch food they often need to rest and during this time scavengers may steal their food with the cheetah unable to do much to prevent this.

Cheetahs can go long periods without drinking. They can last up four days without water.

cheetah

Scientific Name

Acinonyx jubatus

Conservation Status

Vulnerable

Weight

20-72kg (45-160lbs)

Length

1-1.5m (45-60in)

Height

76cm (30in)

Lifespan

Wild 10-12 years

Record 20.5 years

Diet

Carnivorous

Classification

Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Order: Carnivora Suborder: Feliformia Family: Felidae (cats)Subfamily: Felinae Genus: Acinonyx

Species: jubatus 

Range

The population of cheetah is decreasing and their range has been reduced significantly. At present they still remain in the following countries in Africa; Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The only remnant of their range throughout Asia is in Iran.

They went extinct and were reintroduced in Eswatini. It is not known if they have gone extinct in Eritrea yet and their population is uncertain in Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Togo.

Their extinction is confirmed in the following countries across Africa and Asia; Afghanistan, Burundi, Cameroon, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Malawi, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Western Sahara.

Habitat

They can be found in savanna, shrubland, grasslands and deserts. Cheetahs are capable of living on mountainsides at high altitudes. The only habitat in Africa they do not inhabit is rainforests.

cheetah

Reproduction

Female cheetahs come in to estrus at irregular intervals throughout the year. The length of their estrus is also variable. It can last up to 14 days. During this period she mates with a number of males. If a coalition of males find a female all members typically mate with her. The males may remain with the female for up to 3 days and mate with her multiple times a day.

Cubs are born after a 3 month gestation period. An average litter would consist of 3-5 cubs though up to 8 has been recorded.

At birth they are blind and helpless. The mother cares for them in a den where she grooms them and provides warmth. Within a day of birth the cubs are left alone in the den as the mother needs to hunt. The mother regularly returns to care for them. She will move them between dens regularly to avoid detection by predators. This continues for 6 to 8 weeks at which point they can begin to join her on hunts.

As few as 5% of the cubs may reach adulthood in parts of their range due to predation from a range of predators such as African lions, spotted hyenas, leopards, ratels, jackals and the secretary bird.

Down the back of a cub is a thick mantle of grey fur and it is hypothesized that this resembles the highly aggressive honey badger (ratel) and provide some protection for them.

Hunting is learned between 4 and 6 months old.

Mothers provide care to the cubs for up to 18 months and the cubs may remain together once the mother leaves for a further 6 months. Following this females establish their own territory and the males stay together to begin a coalition.

Females reach maturity just before their second birthday and males just before their third. Females typically stop breeding at 12 years old.

cheetah

Behaviour

Female cheetahs are solitary and maintain a home territory which overlaps that of many males.

Males form a group known as a coalition. Typically this is compromised of litter mates but some may accept males from outside of their litter. This group will often have three members.

Cheetahs are best known for being the world’s fastest land mammal. They are capable of running at a top speed of 110km/hr (70mph). This speed can only be maintained for 30 seconds and as such it is used only in the final stages of catching prey.

Across most of their range they are active during the day. This is due to many of their food competitors being nocturnal. In areas where these are not present they may adopt a nocturnal lifestyle.

They are the only big cat which does not roar. Instead they growl, chirp or purr.

Predators and Threats

Adult cheetahs may be preyed upon by lions and can also perish during fights with other male cheetahs.

Humans affect their population in a range of ways and these have lead to them being recognized as Africa’s most threatened cat. They fall victim to habitat loss with their large territory size making this a large problem. Further to this they are affected through persecution by farmers when they eat livestock, vehicle strikes, behavior change due to tourism, snaring in bushmeat traps, loss of prey and hunting both for their skins and the pet trade.

Their population is further threatened due to low genetic diversity. This arises from a genetic bottleneck that occurred during the last ice age. When populations inbreed further it can cause a range of physical defects.

Quick facts

Cheetahs are the fastest land mammal and can reach speeds of up to 110km/hr (70mph).

Photo Credits

Copyright. The Animal Facts

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley.

Durant, S., Mitchell, N., Ipavec, A. & Groom, R. 2015. Acinonyx jubatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T219A50649567. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T219A50649567.en. Downloaded on 01 July 2020.

Genomics.senescence.info. 2020. Cheetah (Acinonyx Jubatus) Longevity, Ageing, And Life History.

[online] Available at: <https://genomics.senescence.info/species/entry.php?species=Acinonyx_jubatus>

[Accessed 1 July 2020].

Monarto Safari Park. 2020. Cheetah Facts & Information - Monarto Safari Park. [online] Available at:

<https://www.monartosafari.com.au/animals/cheetah/> [Accessed 1 July 2020].

Cheetah Conservation Fund. 2020. About Cheetahs • Cheetah Facts • Cheetah Conservation Fund •.

[online] Available at: <https://cheetah.org/learn/about-cheetahs/> [Accessed 1 July 2020].

African Wildlife Foundation. 2020. Cheetah. [online] Available at: <https://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/cheetah> [Accessed 1 July 2020].

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