Kruger National Park

The Cheetah

Scientific Name: Acinonyx Jubatus

The Cheetah has always been considered a gorgeously sleek cat. The word “Cheetah” comes from the Hindi word “Chita” meaning “spotted one”. Because of their beauty, and being the easiest exotic cat to tame, Cheetahs have been in captivity for more than 5,000 years. The first people to tame these cats were the Sumerians. They have been pets to many historical figures like Genghis Khan and Akbar the Great who owned an estimated 6,000 Cheetahs. They have also been used as hunting partners because of their strong eye sight.

The Cheetah is not able to roar because it does not have a floating Hyoid in its neck. Therefore, it is not seen as one of the Great Cats but a Lesser Cat. They are part of the Felidae family and are closely related to pumas and bobcats. Even though Cheetahs cannot roar, they do communicate in other ways. Some methods of communication are purrs, barks, growls and even high-pitched chirping sounds. They also use marking as a method of communication.

Appearance

The cheetah is well-known for their tear lines (the black lines that run down the inside of their eyes and down to the edge of their mouth). The lines help reflect the sun and aides to their hunting. The cat’s claws are semi non-retractable – much like a dog’s – this provides them with more grip when running. Unlike other cats, their pads are hard instead of soft. Cheetahs have rough fur and a thick flat tail with black spots that transform into rings at the end. The tail is used like a rudder on a boat to help them steer and control their balance when running.

Cheetah cubs are born with a mantle of fur that runs down their body. This works as camouflage in tall grass. The fur slowly begins to disappear when the cub is three months old, but still remains after 2 years. The cub’s fur is medium gray when born and changes at 4 months of age.

Size

According to National Geographic, Cheetahs weigh about 77 to 143 lbs (35 to 65 kilograms) – making them nearly the same weight as leopards – and are between 3.5 to 4.5 feet (1.1 to 1.4 meters) long, measuring from the nose to the base of the tail; the tail adds an extra 25.5 to 31.5 inches (65 to 80 centimetres).

King Cheetah

The King Cheetah is a genetic rare mutation. The genetic mutation affected the Cheetah’s fur pattern – the small rounded dots turned to large connecting black patches. The mutation is caused by a lack of genetic diversity.

Where do they live?

Cheetahs can be found in sub-Sahara Africa and in eastern and southern African parks. They prefer open savannah grasslands because of the open running space and grass to camouflage in.

Life span

The average life span of a Cheetah in the wild is 8 years and in captivity 10-12 years, however, Cheetahs can live a maximum of 20 years. Cub death is tremendously high for those in captivity and in the wild. Though, in captivity Cheetahs do not breed well as only 25% in these circumstances breed more than once. This cat was designed to be free.

Social System

Cheetahs are usually solitary animals and females even more so than males. Females will only meet other Cheetahs to mate. She also raises her cubs alone.  Mother cheetahs will unusually stay near of each other. Alternatively, male Cheetahs occasionally form alliances, usually 2-3, to guard more land. These alliances are typically between brothers; only 30% of alliances are made with unrelated members. The members of the alliance are not territorial towards each other but are when it comes to other Cheetahs.

Speed

The Cheetah is known for its incredible speed worldwide and has been termed “fastest land animal”. The cat is equipped with an aerodynamic body and an extra-large heart, nostrils, and lungs. These factors contribute to this cat’s lightning fast speed. They can run up to 110 kmp (70 mph) and reach top speed within 3 seconds but can sustain this speed only for short periods. When running at top speed, their stride length is 6-7 meters (21 feet) and their feet touch the ground only twice with each stride. These truly are flying cats. This fact is not as popular as their speed…but Cheetahs have also been known to swim, however like most cats they prefer not to.

Diet

Cheetahs are carnivores and feed mostly on smaller antelope like springbok, steenbok, Thomson’s gazelle, and duiker. If needed, they will also feed on warthogs, rabbits, and birds. Cheetahs consume an average of 6-8 lbs of meat per day and can go long periods without water (4 – 10 days).

Hunting

Cheetahs are more active during the day and will usually hunt throughout daybreak and dusk. Cheetahs rely on their speed and vision when hunting. While hunting they will first stalk their prey until they are close enough and then chase the prey, knocking it over in the process and proceed in suffocating the catch by biting down on the throat.

Written By: Tersha van Staden