The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is renowned for being the fastest land animal in the world. They can be found mainly in northern Africa, but smaller populations are also scattered around southern and eastern parts of the continent. The animals can survive in a variety of environments, from grasslands to desert regions.
Currently, the big cat’s population is declining due to habitat loss and illegal trade, although conservation efforts are underway, including captive breeding programmes at zoos and protected wildlife parks.
A Cheetah’s body is undoubtedly built for speed. Their powerful legs, flexible spine and long tail are all contributing factors to the animal’s astonishing ability to accelerate from 0 to 72km/h in just 2.5 seconds. The long tail helps to balance their body weight when turning, and semi-retractable claws mean that these sudden turns are controlled effortlessly.
On average, these big cats are around 112-142cm long from head to rump, and can weigh anywhere between 34 and 64kg. Compared to other large cats, they have relatively small teeth. This is to allow more room in the skull for nasal passages, facilitating large intakes of air during sprints.
Their famous spotted coat helps with camouflage when hiding from predators or stalking prey and the fur also features signature black streaks reaching from the eyes to the mouth on either side.
Unlike Lions and Tigers, they cannot roar, but purr like house cats instead. They have a wide variety of other vocal cues to help them communicate with one another, such as chirping, hissing and stuttering. Cheetahs also make a sound that is similar to a cat’s ‘meow’. Each of these vocalisations has a different meaning – they can be understood as instructions, warnings or mating calls.
Males and females live their lives rather differently; while the males tend to live in groups consisting of other male siblings, females prefer to be solitary. The only time the sexes communicate is during the mating period.
Litters usually consist of three to five cubs, and at six months of age the cubs are taught to hunt and avoid predators. Unfortunately, around 70% of cubs do not survive to adulthood. At 18 months, they are left to their own devices, and after two years they will be ready to look for a mate.
The big cat’s typical prey includes gazelles, warthogs, hares, young wildebeest and birds.
Wildlife Holidays to Encounter Cheetahs
Specialist nature tour companies offer incredible wildlife holidays in various regions of Africa. This is an excellent opportunity to observe the big cats up-close and in their natural habitat. Expert naturalists and local guides accompany the tours to ensure the groups take advantage of the very best of Africa’s viewing spots and enjoy a truly memorable, once in a lifetime experience.
Author Plate Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in birds. With a passionate interest in rare avian species, Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of flora and fauna in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.