An amazing animal athlete that can reach a top speed of 70 mph (110 kmh) in just 3-4 seconds, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is renowned for being the fastest animal on land.
These fast felines are designed for speed! A flexible spine, long limbs and shoulder blades unattached to the collarbone allow the cheetah a stride of 22 feet (6.7 meter) – the same length as a thoroughbred racehorse.
These quick cats are unlike most other cats in many ways. They hunt during the day, usually in the morning or late afternoon and their claws are blunt and only semi-retractable (they cannot be fully concealed into their paws). Acting like cleats, their claws dig into the dirt to provide traction.
Cheetahs rely on sight to find a meal. They’ll watch from a high vantage point like a termite mound, fallen tree or a rocky hill called a “kopje” to pick out prey.
The dark stripes under their eyes are known as “malar stripes” which may help reduce the sun’s glare – like the eye black that football players wear under their eyes. Their iconic spots provide camouflage in their savanna habitat and their tail measures around 25-30 inches (63-75 cm), it stabilizes and allows for sudden turns.
Cheetahs hunt animals like gazelle, impala and other small to medium ungulate (hoofed animal) species as well as small birds, hares and rodents. To take down prey, they’ll knock down the animal with their paw, go for its throat and bite down with a vice-like grip to suffocate it.
Cheetahs do not have the ability to roar, instead they can purr, hiss, chirp and meow.
While females are solitary, males often form small groups known as coalitions. A coalition is usually made up of litter mates and membership may last for life.
Cheetahs once ranged across the entire African continent (except the Congo basin) and into Asia (from the Arabian peninsula to eastern India). Today, they are found in less than 10% of their historic range and considered extinct in over 20 countries.
Cheetahs face threats like habitat loss, low genetic diversity, poaching and conflict with humans. Cheetahs are listed as vulnerable on the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species with possibly less than 7,000 individuals remaining in the wild.