Cheetahs are built for speed, with a whip-like spine, long legs, and a long tail that acts as a rudder for sudden turns. They are the world's fastest land animal. The cheetah can chase its prey for 274 meters (almost a sixth of a mile) at the speed of 114 kilometers (almost 71 miles per hour) per hour. Both the male and the female of the species are referred to as "cheetahs," unlike in the case of many other animals. Cheetahs can generally live up to 7 years.
Where do cheetahs live?
Today, most cheetahs are found in sub-Saharan Africa, though a few are still seen in Iran. In the past, they used to be found throughout northern India and Iran. They prefer to live in semi-deserts, savannah, prairies, and thick brush. As they rely upon speed to hunt, they avoid dense forests. Conservation efforts are required in order to avoid the cheetah becoming an entry on the endangered species list. In India, the forests in which many cheetahs live are not secured and they can leave the forests and travel into cities or villages. In the last 2-3 years, cheetahs have been found in these urban areas.
What do cheetahs look like?
Cheetahs are rather dog-like, medium-sized spotted cats with long legs and slender, but muscular, bodies. They have a white belly, and a dark stripe that looks like a tear on both sides of their faces. In contrast to leopards, which have palmette shaped spots, cheetahs have round dark spots on their fur. Adult cheetahs weigh from 90 to 140 pounds (40-65 kg), and are around 4 to 5 feet (112-135 cm) in length. Cheetahs are built to do what they do--run! Their long tail provides them with balance. They have a big chest, a narrow waist, and powerful muscles in their hind legs. They have small heads and muzzles; large nostrils for increased oxygen intake; and small, round ears. All of this makes the cheetah very sleek and aerodynamic when it runs.
What do they eat, and how do they catch their prey?
Cheetahs mostly eat mammals like gazelles, impala, gnu calves, and hares, which are all about the same size as, or smaller than an adult cheetah.
Cheetahs stalk their prey until they are within about thirty meters, and then give chase. The chase is usually over in less than a minute, and if the cheetah doesn't catch its prey quickly, it will often give up rather than waste energy. This is because cheetahs use a lot of energy when chasing prey at such high speed. They are very fast runners due to the build of their legs and about half of the chases are successful.
Cheetahs must eat their catch quickly or risk losing their food to other stronger predators. They will not usually fight with a larger animal over food as risking an injury would mean certain starvation.
Cheetahs are well-adapted to living in arid environments. In the Kalahari desert, they have been estimated to travel an average of 82 km between drinks of water. They have been seen getting their water from the blood or urine of their prey or by eating Tsamma melons.
See how much you know about the world's fastest land mammal:
- After running at full speed, a cheetah must rest at least 15 minutes before running again.
- Cheetahs do not roar, but they make a number of very un-catlike sounds, many of which resemble bird chirps.
- Cheetah sounds include purrs, bleats, barks, growls, hisses and chirps but the chirp can be heard at a distance of a mile away!
- Cheetahs were called leopards before leopards were! Earlier the word for Cheetah was "leopard", and the word for leopard was simply "pard". Cheetahs were called leo-pards then as a mix between "leo" - Latin for lion, and "pard", then the name of leopards.
- Apart from pumas, cheetahs are the only big cats that purr.
- Many cheetah cubs are killed by a lack of food or their natural enemies - lions, leopards, and hyenas. An old African legend says the tear stain marks on the cheetah's face are from the mother weeping for her lost cubs.
- Cheetahs do not usually eat the skin or bones of their prey.
- Hyenas, leopards, and lions steal the cheetah's prey after the cheetah has killed it.