The Cheetah, sometimes mistaken for a leopard, is a leaner animal with longer legs. It has “tear drop” black markings below its eyes. A cheetah has 4 to 6 rings near the end of its tail, which ends in a white tuft. Adults weigh 80 to 140 pounds. Body length averages 4 feet and the tail is a few inches over half that or more.
Cheetahs dwell in grasslands, areas of dense vegetation, open plains, and mountainous terrain in Africa and Iran. They live alone or in small groups. Cheetahs are endangered due to inbreeding and to loss of habitat.
Females live alone, except when they have cubs. They usually bear 3 to 5 cubs, weighing between 9 to 15 ounces when born. Mother cheetahs move their cubs to new hiding places every few days. Cubs have a mantle, a think yellow-gray coat, which grows along their backs. It’s thought that this helps conceal them from predators. Cheetah males, often brothers, form a coalition that live and hunt together for life.
Cheetahs prey on rabbits, guinea fowl, francolins, springhares, gazelles, wildebeest calves, impalas, ostrich, and antelope. Hiding in tall grasses, they stalk prey, then suddenly race out to attack. When prey runs, the cheetah trips it with a front paw, and bites the throat of the animal as it falls. The cheetah holds on until the animal suffocates. Cheetahs eat quickly before they are driven off by lions, leopards or hyenas.
Fun Cheetah Facts
- The cheetah is the fastest animal on land and can reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour, yet can run only 400 to 600 yards before it is exhausted.
- Cheetahs have a high cub mortality rate, up to 90% in the wild, since until cubs can follow their mother at about 6 weeks, she has to leave them alone to hunt. It is also difficult to breed cheetahs in captivity.
- Cheetahs are diurnal.
- The name cheetah comes from a Hindi word meaning “spotted one” or from the Sanskrit word “chitraka.”
- They are the only big cat that purrs! They do not roar.
- The rare King cheetah has stripes on its back.
Cheetah Conservation Fund
Defenders of Wildlife
San Diego Zoo
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