Cheetah - Acinonyx jubatus
( Schreber, 1775 )

 

 

Cheetah Photo
Cheetah Location Map
Africa / Asia
Cheetah Photo Cheetah Location Map Africa / Asia

Subspecies: 7
Est. World Population: < 15,000

CITES Status: APPENDIX I
IUCN Status: ENDANGERED
U.S. ESA Status: ENDANGERED

Body Length: 45 - 60 in
Tail Length: 20 - 30 in
Shoulder Height: 30 - 45 in
Weight: 65 - 110 lbs

Top Speed: 75 mph
Jumping Ability: (Horizontal)

Life Span: 12 - 14 yrs in the Wild
Life Span: 5 - 8 yrs in Captivity

Sexual Maturity: 21 - 22 mo (Females)
Sexual Maturity: 24 - 25 mo (Males)
Litter Size: 3 - 4
Gestation Period: 90 - 95 days

Identification:
In Hindi cheetah means "spotted one." The base color of the upper parts of an adult is tawny to bale bluff or grayish white, and the underparts are paler, often white. The coat is marked by round or oval black spots measuring .75 to 1.5 in in diameter. The only exception to this is when recessive genes are inherited from both parents resulting in a more "blotchy" coat pattern. Cheetahs exhibiting this rare mutation were once thought to be a separate subspecies, but it is now known that they can appear in a litter of normal cheetahs. Only the white of the throat and the abdomen are unmarked with spots. The coat is coarse with the hair slightly longer at the nape than elswhere. The last third of the tail is marked by four to six black rings and a bushy white tuft at the very end. The tail rings are distinctive on each cheetah and enable individual identification. The cheetah has a small head with short ears, high set eyes and a black line which looks like a tear drop running from the inner aspect of each eye down to the mouth. The teeth are small and the nasal passages are large. The body resembles that of a greyhound and is slim with very long legs. An adult cheetah measures 67 to 94 cm tall at the shoulder, and is 110 to 152 cm in length, with an additional 70 to 81 cm in tail length. The cheetah exhibits slight sexual dimorphism with the males being the larger sex.

The cheetah is the fastest terrestrial mammal with a speed range up to 71 mph. This top speed can only be maintained for roughly 275 meters. The cheetah moves foward roughly seven to eight meters in a single stride and completes four strides per second. Cheetah paws are less rounded and harder than most cats; this aids the cheetah in making quick turns. The claws are only semi-retractable and provide traction during running. Cheetah have reduced teeth compared to other large cats. This is perhaps because of their large nostrils, which are useful in quick air intake and do not leave room for the roots of larger teeth. Large lungs, liver, heart, and adrenals facilitate a rapid physical response. Cheetah have a long, fluid body which is streamlined over light bones. The tail acts to balance the body during quick turning. The spine functions as a spring for the back legs, which gives the cheetah added reach for each step. The black teardrops under each eye may enhance vision by minimizing glare from the sun.

Subspecies:
A.j.hecki:
- North Africa
A.j.jubatus:
- Southern Africa
A.j.ngoronogorensis:
- Tanzania, Zaire
A.j.raddei:
- Caspian Area
A.j.raineyi:
- Kenya
A.j.soemmeringii:
- Nigeria, Somalia
A.j.venacticus:
- India, Middle East

Habitat:
The Cheetah favors areas with tall grass and shrubs. They also seek out areas with many elevated points to look for prey from.

Biomes: temperate grassland, tropical savanna & grasslands

Range:
Ethiopian: Currently, the cheetah is found in sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Iran.

Life Cycle:
Females are polyestrous, with an average cycle of twelve days. Fertility lasts for one to three days. Breeding occurs throughout the year. A peak birth season has been noted during March through June. Gestation lasts 90 to 95 days. The number of young born can be one to eight, but is usually three to five. At birth cubs are on average 11.8 inches long and weigh 0.6 pounds. They are gray in color and have a mantle of mane-like hair along their back. It has been postulated that this mantle helps camouflage the cubs in the grass. The mantle begins to disappear at three months, but may still be seen at 2 years of age. During the first few weeks of life the cubs are moved every few days by their mother to avoid predators. The mother must leave the cubs alone to hunt, and during these times cubs often fall victim to predators. Infant mortality rates may be as high as 90%, with a majority being killed by lions. Cubs begin to follow their mother at 6 weeks of age. Cubs are weaned at three to six months. They usually remain with their mother for 13 to 20 months, during which time she teaches them to hunt. Sexual maturity is reached at 2 years of age.

Food & Hunting:
The cheetah is carnivorous. The diet consists primarily of gazelles, but also includes impalas, game birds, rabbits, and the young of warthogs, kudu, hartebeest, oryx, roan, and sable. Cheetah hunt in early morning and late afternoon (diurnal). They scan the country side from a tree limb, on top of a termite mound, or even the roofs of cars of observers in order to locate prey. Once they have located an animal that has strayed some distance from the group, the cheetah tries to get within fifty yards of the intended victim before accelerating. Full sprints last roughly twenty seconds and rarely exceed one minute. Most hunts fail. If the hunt is successful, the prey is usually knocked down by the force of the cheetah's charge and then seized by its throat and strangled. Smaller prey such as rabbits are usually killed by biting through the skull. A female with cubs may make a kill every day, whereas lone adults hunt every two to five days. Cheetah eat fast because if challenged for their food, they most often lose.

Behaviour:
Female cheetah are solitary, except when they have a litter. Young females leave their natal group, but usually occupy the same home range as their mother. Sibling males will often leave their natal group together and form coalitions. They seek out an area a great distance from their mother. It has been suggested that male coalitions help one another in hunting and defending a territory, thus securing access to receptive females. Male coalitions claim a range which may overlap several females' territories. Unrelated males are sometimes accepted into coalitions. It is rare to see a lone male. The only time a lone male can secure a territory is if there are no coalitions in the vicinity. Males and females mix only to mate. The males do not participate in cub rearing. Life span in the wild can be up to 14 years, with an average at 7 years.

Conservation:
Population estimates vary from 8,000 to 15,000. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) classifies the cheetah as vunerable, with the African sub-species as endangered and the Asiatic sub-species as critically endangered. The cheetah is listed as endangered and is on Appendix 1 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Other Details:
The cheetah originated roughly four million years ago, before any of the other big cats. The oldest fossils have been found in North America in what is now Texas Nevada, and Wyoming. Until the end of the last Ice Age (about 10,000 years ago) the cheetah was common in North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Humans are probably a major factor pushing the cheetah towards extinction. The ever expanding human population has limited cheetah living space. The decreasing amount of natural habitat available to cheetah along with hunting, and the illegal pet trade are considered to be major factors negatively affecting wild cheetah populations.

References:
Brakefield, Tom. Big Cats: Kingdom of Might. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 1993
Alden, Peter. National Audubon Society Field Guide To African Wildlife. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1995
Alderton, David. Wild Cats Of The World. New York: Facts on File, 1995
Nowak, Ronald. Walker's Mammals Of The World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999

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Database Last Updated: 31 Dec 1969

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