Cheetahs inhabit the grasslands and deserts in parts of southwestern and eastern Africa. They mainly hunt gazelles, although their diet also includes birds, hares and other small to medium-sized mammals. Their average life span in their natural habitat ranges from 10 to 12 years. In captivity, they can live to be up to 19 years old.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Carnivora
Family - Felidae
Genus - Acinonyx
Species - A. jubatus
Common Names - Cheetah, Hunting Leopard, King Cheetah (a rare mutation with larger spots and three stripes along the spine)
Cheetahs have short ears and heads that are smaller and more rounded than those of other wild cat species. Their pale yellow or fawn-colored coat is covered in small, round, black spots, and they have a black stripe on each side of their muzzle that extends to each eye. Cheetahs also have paws that are more narrow than those of other wild cats. Adults range in size from 3.5 to 4.5 feet in height, with tails measuring between 25.5 and 31.5 inches. They weigh between 77 and 143 pounds.
Cheetahs do not have a specific breeding season. Female cheetahs gestate for 90 to 95 days, then give birth to litters of one to six offspring. The cubs remain with their mother until they are at least 15 months old. Fathers do not provide any parental care for their young.
Cheetahs are the fastest land mammals in the world. It takes three seconds for them to go from zero to 60 miles per hour, and they are capable of making sharp turns while running. Cheetahs use their eyesight to look for prey during the day while they stay hidden in the grass. Male cheetahs mark their territory with urine, claw marks and flattened patches of grass. Males sometimes form small groups and defend their territory from other males attempting to intrude.
Cheetahs were once found in a much larger range that included Palestine, central India, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, but they were hunted extensively by European settlers. They are now found in roughly 24 percent of their historic range.
Cheetahs are listed as a vulnerable species. Roughly 7,000 to 10,000 remain in the wild. Habitat loss and fragmentation is a major threat along with sport hunting, a decreasing prey base, conflict with farmers, and increasing competition with lions for territory. Cheetahs are protected by national laws in most of their range. Other conservation efforts include improved livestock management to reduce conflicts with farmers and the establishment of protected areas for their habitats.