The cheetah is famous for being the world’s fastest land animal. This mammal has a top speed of 120 kilometers per hour and can accelerate from 0 to 95 kilometers in just three seconds. But there is more to this cat than its top speed; it is beautiful and graceful, and sadly, it’s endangered.
The cheetah has five subspecies:
- Asiatic cheetah (found in Iran)
- Northwest African cheetah
- South African cheetah
- Sudanese cheetah
- Tanzanian cheetah (also known as Kenyan cheetah)
Latin name: Acinonyx jubatus
Group name: Coalition
Size: 3.5 to 4.5 feet tall, Tail: 25.5 to 31.5 inches long
Weight: 34kg to 64kg
Skip to: Characteristics, Range & habitat, Diet, Behaviour, Fun facts, Video
An adult cheetah can measure up to 77 cm at shoulder width, and 40 to 60 inches long, measuring from head to rump.
Add this to 25.5 to 33. 5 inches of tail, and what you get is a longish, slender, dog-like body. The animal is most recognizable for its solid black spots and a greyish-white underbelly.
This coloring helps them a lot with camouflage in their habitat, which most often encompasses swathes of vast open plains of brownish long grass and shrubbery.
The cheetah has a small face, large nostrils for maximum oxygen intake, and tear marks on both sides of their eyes, dropping down to meet the top of their mouths. The tear marks are among the top distinctive features used to tell the cheetah and the leopard apart.
This unassuming body has several adaptions that enable the cheetah to hold the title of fastest land animal. Here are the key ones:
They have large lungs, a powerful heart, wide nostrils, and large arteries. These systems work together to draw in more oxygen into the cheetah’s muscles. A cheetah’s lungs can go from 60 breaths a minute at rest, to 150 breaths a minute during a sprint.
A cheetah’s tail at over 60 to 80 cm long is almost half its head and body length. This acts to provide a counterbalance, helping the animal to steer and turn at extremely high speeds.
A long vertebral column with exceptional flexibility allows flexing and straightening, which boosts the length of strides the mammal can make. This makes it possible to do 20-25 feet per stride.
The animal has long muscular legs that expand quickly to aid acceleration. All its leg’s bones are also extended, with a fused tibia and fibula. This provides increased stability at high speeds.
- Light bodyweight
Adult cheetahs grow to a weight of 36 to 50 kgs. This body plan, coupled with the muscular tail, legs, and a runner’s lungs, are created for one thing: killer speed.
A cheetah’s paws are tough and less rounded. This, and blunt claws, give cheetahs traction for high-speed turns
For an animal that hunts during the day, good eyesight, stealth, a spotted coat, and top-notch speed are crucial for survival.
Range & habitat
Cheetahs are adaptable in a wide range of habitats, from thick shrubs, dry forests, savannahs, grasslands, and temperate deserts.
Cheetahs today only exists in about 6% of their former range, with Western and Northern Africa registering the highest decline in numbers.
The current cheetah population is estimated to be fewer than 7,100 animals, with only 5% of cubs surviving to adulthood.
Generally, a cheetah’s diet consists of wildebeest calves, gazelles, impalas, antelopes, warthog calves, and hares.
When there is more than one cheetah on the hunt, they can attempt to hunt down larger animals.
Its habitat can get dry, and the cheetah is well adapted to a drink every 3-4 days.
While the choice of food is varied, the method of hunting is not. For starters, cheetahs are more of sprinters than marathoners.
Therefore, a successful kill requires a cheetah to stalk its prey before launching an attack from a 70m to 100m range. While it can accelerate to speeds of 80kmph in 3 strides, it lacks the endurance to sustain a long chase at these speeds.
Stalking before attacking helps the cheetah to conserve its energy for high-intensity chases.
However, most of these last less than 60 seconds, and cover over 200-300 meters. During the chase, the cheetah attempts to bat its prey, by swiping its powerful paw. With any luck, this grounds or slows down the animal, allowing the cheetah to clamp its prey with a powerful bite to its neck.
The cheetah then drags it to a more secluded place to eat. This minimizes the chances of opportunistic animals stealing its kill.
Behaviour & lifestyle
Adult female cheetahs give birth to three to five cubs at a time and raise them for about a year and a half to two years. Mothers nurse their young ones for 3 to 6 months and take caution to hide them from predatory lions.
Cubs spend this time playing and learning hunting techniques from their mothers. Male cheetahs live solo or with their littermates.
The majority of places where cheetahs inhabit are also prime environments for hyenas and lions, which outnumber cheetahs. Often, cheetahs tend to move away, sometimes venturing closer to human populations, which poses another threat to them.
Fun cheetah facts
Here are quick fun facts about the sprinting cheetah:
- The cheetah is the only big cat that can’t roar but can growl and purr as house cats do.
- A cheetah has between 2,000 and 3,000 spots on its fur to help with its camouflage.
- This is the only big cat that can turn mid-air during a sprint.
- Cheetahs can jump more than ten times their body’s length and are known to reach 20 feet high.
- Unlike lions and leopards, cheetahs hunt in the daytime. A cheetah’s eyesight is so powerful that it can spot prey 5 km away.
- Their blunt claws and light bodies make them vulnerable to other mammals in the wild. A cheetah will, therefore, walk away than get into a fight.
- The cheetah can’t scale quite as well as other big cats do.
Christened the Lamborghini of the jungle, the cheetah is serious about speed. For an animal that can’t climb, is too light and small to fight off aggressors, this adaptation serves the cheetah well.
Meet the cheetah
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