The cheetah is the fastest land mammal on earth, over short distances it can reach a speed of over 60 mph. It can accelerate to top speed in three seconds. Learn more about this phenomenal animal!
The fast running cheetah is the most specialized hunter of all the big cats. Even so, life is a constant struggle against rival predators and an ever-shrinking habitat.
The cheetah's superb eyesight enables it to spot distant prey and follow it with pinpoint precision before racing in to kill. The cheetah's claws are unique among cats they never retract fully, they step partially extended for extra grip. His coat provides camouflage for this daytime hunter, breaking up its outline among the tall grass. The long tail helps balance the cheetah's body as it twists and turns at very high speeds. During a chase, the flexible spine of the cheetah arches and springs back like a bow, allowing the cat to make giant strides. His shoulder blades lie on the sides of the body, which allow the forelegs greater freedom when stretching at full pace.
Savannah grassland and semi-desert are prime cheetah country. Since this cat doesn't stalk its prey closely, it has little use for the cover needed by stealthier hunters, such as leopards or tigers.
The cheetah can breed all year round. Adult males and females only come together to mate. After mating, the make leaves, and the female is responsible for rearing the young. The cheetah gives birth to more cubs than other big cats, but the cubs are born unusually small. This is because their mother would be unable to hunt if she carried them longer. For the first 11 days or so the cubs are blind and helpless. Once their eyes open, the mother carries them to a different den every few days. Such regular moves keeps every den clean. This reduces the risk of predators, such as lions, sniffing out the vulnerable cubs.
Male and female cheetahs have very different lifestyles. The male lives and hunts in all male groups. He is fiercely territorial, each male group marks its territorial boundaries with urine. The female cheetah leads a more solitary life, except for the 20 months she spends looking after each litter of cubs. The female is not aggressive to others of her kind, preferring retreat to attack. When she scent marks rocks and trees, it's only to alert males that she's ready to mate.
The cheetah hunts a wide variety of prey, including hares and game birds, but prefers herbivores, such as gazelles and impalas. Occasionally, two or three males will hunt cooperatively. Keeping its target in view, the cheetah casually stalks toward the prey. As the herd panics and starts to run, it triggers the killing response. The cat's great speed enables it to catch even the swiftest impala and the chase will be over in a few seconds. If the cat forced to run for any longer, it usually gives up, exhausted.
Cheetah populations are stable, and in some areas the cheetah is now so numerous that limited hunting is permitted. The main threat to cheetah is the loss of habitat, and being hunted illegally for its beautiful coat.