Cheetahs

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Acinonyx jubatus

The fastest animal on land the cheetah is built for speed, with long legs, non-retractable claws and a rudder-shaped tail for control!

Characteristics

Distribution
Once widespread over much of Africa, Asia, India and the Middle East cheetah’s are now restricted in the wild to sub-Saharan Africa. Namibia has the largest wild cheetah population in Africa.

Social structure
Single females will hold and defend their territories from other females. They mark their territories by means of scent sprayed from an anal pouch. Related males may form coalitions.

Cheetah males are not as territorial as females, but they do keep other males away from their ranges. Competition between males when a female is in oestrus is high and intense with fatalities often been recorded.

Range differentiation
The main differences occur in the hunting and feeding behaviour across the range.

Habitat
Cheetahs are found in a wide range of habitats, although they are more prevalent in the savanna and open woodlands, and deserts. They are not reliant on water.

Feeding
Cheetah hunt during daylight hours, with a peak in the morning and evening. They have however, been known to hunt on moonlight nights. Although preying predominantly on antelope such as impala, gazelles and springbok cheetah prey varies from rodents to wildebeest.

Larger antelope such as Wildebeest and Tsessebe will be hunted when there is a cheetah coalition. Female cheetah will catch smaller prey and bring it back live, so that cubs may learn hunting techniques.

Breeding
Competition for mating amongst males when a female is in oestrus is intense with a high fatality rate recorded in fights in areas of high density. The gestation period is around three months. Cheetah cubs look very similar to honey badgers from a distance. This is a survival technique as honey badgers are renowned to be ferocious.

A young Cheetah with its parent
Cheetah cubs resemble honey badgers in colour when they are young

A Cheetah up in a tree
Although they are not good climbers cheetah are often seen on fallen trees

A Cheetah showing its teeth
Despite the teeth cheetahs are at the bottom of the predator chain.
Lightweight predators

Cheetah are at the bottom of the predator chain and once they have killed they will eat very quickly as other predators may steal the carcass. Jackals and even vultures have even been observed taking a carcass from a cheetah.

It’s thought that cheetah rely solely on their speed to catch their prey. However, observations have proved that cheetahs use cover to first stalk before releasing a burst of speed to outrun their prey. Cheetah knock their prey to the ground in mid-stride by using their paw; they will then bite their prey’s neck, causing it to suffocate.

Success rates vary depending on the prey and terrain but in personal observations the success rate is between 40 – 50%.

Speedy

Cheetahs are believed to reach speeds of 120km/h but this remains to be proved. The more realistic speed is 70-80 km/h. The cheetah is not built for stamina and can only hold top speed for short bursts of up to 200m.

Cheetah have a variety of calls from a purr to a growl. They also have a birdlike chirp, used when they are contacting others.

Quick Facts

A cheetah surveys the surrounding grassland for prey

It takes more than one cheetah to hunt an animal as large as an oryx.

Cheetah eat quickly once they have killed and will constantly look around for other predators.

A young wildebeeste is the perfect size for cheetah to hunt.