IUCN Redlist Status
Most cheetahs are located in Sub-Saharan Africa, in countries including but not limited to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Prior to the 20th century, their range included much of the Middle East and parts of India. Currently, the largest populations of cheetahs can be found on reserves in Africa.
The habitat of the cheetah includes areas of wide open spaces, such as grasslands, savannas and plains. Here, it can utilize its speed to hunt its prey.
The cheetah is carnivorous, and its diet consists of animals such as gazelles, wildebeests, impalas, rabbits, birds and warthogs. Cheetahs, unlike lions or hyenas, prefer to hunt during the day. When hunting, cheetahs will attempt to stalk their prey and get as close as possible to the animal before attacking. When attacking, cheetahs can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. More often than not, the attack will fail. If it manages to reach its prey, it will typically knock down the animal and then suffocate it by biting its throat. Like an over-heated engine, the cheetah will need to enter a cool down period after the chase. It will then need to eat quickly, as it can be driven away from its kill by other hungry animals such as lions or hyenas.
Cheetahs are the fastest land mammals on Earth, and are built primarily for three things: stealth, agility and speed. Cheetahs usually grow between 3.5 - 5 feet in length, and its tail will be an additional 2.5 - 3 feet. Adults weigh between 80 - 145 pounds. Males are generally slightly larger than females.
The most noticeable feature of cheetahs are their black spots. The spots of cheetahs are unique for big cats in that their spots are solid, whereas jaguars and leopards have open spots. The spots most likely help camouflage cheetahs while they stalk their prey, or act to confuse their prey while in chase. Their coats are golden yellow to pale orange in color, which enables them to blend in with the grasses of the savanna or the colors of the desert. Their heads are small, and from its eyes to the sides of its nose run two black "tear marks", which may help block sunlight out of its eyes. The bodies of cheetahs are thin with long and muscular legs. Their tails are spotted and act as balances to make them more agile. One feature that makes cheetahs unique from most other cats is that their claws do not fully retract. This helps them to maintain traction while chasing down prey. There are only a few cats in the world that have this special adaptation. Cheetahs also have enlarged internal organs including an enlarged heart and lungs. These organs are specially adapted to cheetahs to aid them in sprinting as their respiratory rate increases.
Mating Habits and Reproduction
Cheetahs are mostly solitary animals with the exception that some males may live in small groups. Cheetahs can mate at any time during the year, and males and females will mate with different members of the opposite sex during their lifetimes. A male cheetah will not remain with the female after mating.
The gestation period of cheetahs will last approximately 3 months, at which time the female will give birth to an average of 3 - 4 cubs, but can have as many as 8 per litter. Many of the cubs will not survive the first few weeks after they are born. During this time they will be hunted by lions, hyenas, leopards or other animals while the mother is away hunting. After a period of 5 - 7 weeks, the cubs will begin to follow their mother on hunts.
Despite all of the threats that the cheetah faces in the wild, human activity is still the largest threat to their survival. Much of the prey that the cheetah hunts is also hunted by people, resulting in more competition for food. Also, as humans encroach on cheetahs' territories, groups of cheetahs become isolated. This forces inbreeding between animals which causes genetic problems. Further, cheetahs are poached for various reasons.