Cheetah hunting prey - how do they run so fast?

Cheetah hunting prey in Africa is not built for long distance chases but rather for short bursts of blurring speed.

Everything form the small head, slender body and highly developed respiratory system contribute to them being known as nature's speed machines.


How do cheetahs run so fast?

To understand how cheethas catch their prey, firstly notice how the long and slender body of a cheetah consists of small and light frame.

cheetah running full speed

Tail

Measures 2 to 3 feet.

The tail acts as a rudder for quick turning and balancing.

Stride

Small collarbones and vertical shoulder blades help lengthen the stride.

The cheetah spine is very flexible and works as a spring for the powerful back legs to give it additional reach and enables it to move 7 to 8 meters in a single stride.

Vision

The distinctive dark tear stripe from the inner corner of every eye enhances its visual acuity by minimizing the sun's glare.


Special paw pads and claws that are blunt and semi-retractable claws provide great traction.

Large nostrils and lungs provide quick air intake.


Fastest land mammals

Cheetah

Greyhound

Race horse

Human
sprinter

cheetah speed

64MPH

43 MPH

40 MPH

28 MPH


How do cheetahs adapt to their environment?

cheetah pictures


These African animals are highly specialized for a particular style of hunting.

Cheetahs use places of elevation such as a termite mound or trees as vantage points to keep a lookout for prey.

If cover is available they will use it when stalking.

They typically select the least vigilant prey on the fringes of a group of animals.

If they work in a team one cheetah will draw the mother's attack the other will chase the infant.

A cheetah hunting its prey will start with a slow stalk.


facts about cheetahs

This will be followed by an explosive acceleration to a full-speed at 100 to 120 km/h chase.

If its prey sees it before it gets within about 100 meter it will give up the stalk because it depends on the element of surprise for success.

If it can get within 100 meters it will charge.

Their chances of success are better if it can attack from less than 30 m while its prey is still unaware of its presence.

They can then be up to full speed while its prey is still getting into its stride.

 Stamina limitations

Cheetah chases will lasts for up to 600 meters – they lack the stamina for longer chases.

They can keep up full speed for about 500 meters, after which they have to give up the chase.

Antelopes can easily outperform cheetahs when it comes to endurance.

The most common cause of failure in cheetah hunts is that the prey sees them before they charge.


cheetah hunting prey

Cheetah stats

Cheetahs are successful in about two out of seven hunting attempts.

A cheetah hunting its prey trips it with one or both forepaws.

When the prey is knocked off balance it gives them a chance to grab it by the throat.

It will then suffocate it with a clamping bite to the underside of the neck.


cheetahs hunting


Their teeth are too short for the killing bite used by other cats.

If there is cover nearby it will drag its kill there to escape the notice of other carnivores and vultures.

What animals prey on cheetahs?

In the Kruger National Park cheetahs lose 14% of their kills to spotted hyenas.

Spotted hyenas, leopards and even warthogs, also steal their kills.

Vultures are not only competitors in their own right but also attract the attention of lions and spotted hyenas.

They feed quickly before their kills can be stolen.

Their light build and small teeth make them very vulnerable to attacks by other predators.


information about cheetahs

With its lightweight teeth and skull this African animal has difficulty biting through the skin of even small antelope.

It usually starts feeding at the groin where the skin is thin.

It eats the meat off one thigh, then the belly, the other thigh and finally the forelegs.

They do not eat the skin and intestines of their prey and can chew up only small bones.


What prey do cheetahs prefer hunting?

The favorite prey of a cheetah hunting for its food is smallish antelope like -

  • springbok,
  • steenbok or
  • impala or
  • the young of larger species.

They also eat smaller mammals such as -

  • hares,
  • springhares,
  • porcupines and
  •  ground birds.

Hunts for large antelope like yearling wildebeest, kudu, waterbuck and gemsbok are successful only when a group of cheetahs operate together in a coalition.

In the Kalahari 87% of their kills are springbok.

In the Kruger National Park they eat -

  • 44% impala,
  • 13% common duiker and
  • 13% steenbok.

In Etosha 97% of their diet is made up of springbok.

They do not usually scavenge.


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Keen to find out more cheetah facts?

Find out:

  • What habitat does cheetahs prefer?
  • Are these African animals very social?
  • What sounds do these safari animals make?
  • How do they reproduce?
  • Are cheetah cubs born blind and vulnerable to other predators?