Biology & Lifestyle
The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is the fastest land animal, able to go from 0 to 60mph in only three seconds. Cheetahs have a top speed of 70-75mph. They can only maintain their top speed for two to three hundred yard bursts.
Cheetahs stand 30" tall at the shoulder, are four feet long without the tail, and a healthy adult weight is about 130lbs. The tail is another 28" long.
Cheetah claws are only semi-retractable. The extra extension allows the claws to act like cleats when the cat is running, helping it to make quick turns while pursuing prey. The long tail is also used when running, acting like a rudder for the cheetah. When at full speed, all four of the cheetah's feet are off the ground at two points during a single stride. A single stride can be up to 29 feet.
The cheetah is the only big cat which cannot roar, but it can purr. Mothers and cubs communicate using high pitched chirping sounds, sounding very much like a bird.
Cheetah fur patterns are unique; no cheetah has the same exact spots. The distinctive tear-lines on the cheetah's face help to reflect away sunlight, and the white tuft of its tail helps cubs spot their mother when traveling in tall grasses. Cheetah cubs are born with a silvery mane, to help disguise it from predators.
Cheetahs hunt during the daytime. They pursue a variety of prey, from rabbits to large antelopes, and they stalk as close as possible to prey before chasing it since they cannot maintain their top speed for long.
Cheetahs can live in a variety of habitats, but prefer open savannah. Cheetahs have binocular vision and can see up to three miles away, with perfect clarity.
Female cheetahs raise their cubs until they are 16 to 18 months of age. Male cheetahs will either live alone, or form coalitions to defend more territory.
Cheetahs are constantly vulnerable to the other carnivores of the savannah, such as lions, leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs. A cheetah will often catch a meal only to have it stolen by one of these animals.
A popular but rare mutation that gives the cheetah thick fur with a barred coat pattern instead of spots has come to be known as the "king cheetah." Its rarity once made it a candidate for being a subspecies, but it is only a genetic mutation. There have been no wild sightings of the king cheetah mutation for almost 20 years.
Other rare fur mutations, many of which have led to the dispute over subspecies classification, are as follows: short coarse fur, longer fur, smaller spots, larger spots, brown spots, blue-gray spots, no spots, no tear-lines, black-tipped tails, nearly-white fur, black fur, red fur. The only mutations that have reliable documentation are those of short, coarse, almost white fur, with brown spots and no tear-lines--the Saharan cheetah. It is also said that Asiatic cheetahs have black-tipped tails and slightly thicker fur.
The cheetah is the only living species in the genus Acinonyx. There are six proposed subspecies of Acinonyx jubatus, spread geographically across Africa and Asia, however scientists cannot agree yet if there is enough genetic variation between them all to define them as subspecies. Two of the subspecies, the Saharan Cheetah and the Asiatic Cheetah, are critically endangered.
Acinonyx jubatus is Latin for "maned no-move claw." The name cheetah comes from the Sanskrit word citrakāyaḥ which means "variegated", from Hindi's cītā.
Historic and other names for the cheetah are citrakāyaḥ, gepard, duma, and jagluiperd. Variations on these names are the cheetah's identity in the countries of the world.
In ancient times, cheetahs were kept by royalty across Africa, Europe, and Asia not only as pets, but for sport hunting, known as coursing. In India they were referred to as "hunting leopards." India eventually took all of its cheetahs from the wild for this purpose, leading to their extinction within the country and Asia.
In 1900, the cheetah population of Africa was estimated to be 100,000. Farmers, incorrectly believing that cheetahs preyed on livestock, killed them by the thousands. This, coupled with the encroachment of farmland on their habitat is the primary cause for their endangerment today. The illegal fur trade is also responsible.
Visit BigCats.com's cheetah pages for more!