Cheetahs, facts and photos

Let me guess. You probably already know that the cheetah is the fastest animal on earth. 

But there is more to the hunting dynamics of the world's fastest land animal. Speed is only a part of the cheetah’s tactic. 

A cheetah can only sprint for about 300 yards before rising temperature and oxygen shortfall will force it to quit.

Just as important is the ability to change direction very quickly to catch prey like small antelopes that are proficient at turning quickly.


how fast is a cheetahThe cheetah spine is very flexible - much like a whip

Rapid turning during the final stages of the chase may be just as important as accelerating rapidly at the beginning in the carefully planned duel between predator and prey.



The cheetah chases comprise two phases: The initial rapid acceleration start catch up with prey, followed by the prey-specific slowing period.

This allows the the cheetah to deal with the quick turns motions of the prey as the distance between them closes.

Further on we will also look at which specialized camouflage techniques they use to blend into their environment .

Also why do Serengeti lions kill about 70% of the cubs and only 5% live to independence and many other interesting facts?


What is a cheetah?


The cheetah is a cat which is famous for its speed.

The cheetah head, body, legs and first two thirds of the tail are covered with black spots.


cheetah factsCheetah legs are long and the claws are permanently exposed

It has a short main from the back of the neck to the shoulders.

The head is small and rounded with large eyes and a distinctive tear stripe from the inner corner of each eye to the corner of the lips.


cheetah earsTear stripe from the inner corner of each eye

The ears are small and round.

The teeth are adapted to eating fast.  They must eat their kill quickly to avoid losing it to larger predators.


How fast is a cheetah?


Cheetahs are equipped for explosive acceleration to a full-speed of up to 90 kilometers per hour over a short distance.

Everything from the small head, slender body and highly developed respiratory system contribute to cheetahs speed.

How big is a

cheetah?

Light bones with long, thin legs and a short neck.

Body length: 112-135 cm Weight: 34-54 kg  Shoulder height: 73+ cm

Tail

Tail 26-32 inches (65-80 cm) long. Act as a balancing rudder.

Cheetah ears

Small and round. Black patch behind each ear is believed to simulate a pair of eyes.

Feet

Small with blunt unsheathed claws.

Cheetah eyes

Cheetahs have a 210-degree field of view .

how fast cheetah run

The cheetah is not built for long distance chases but rather for short bursts of blurring speed.


Fastest Cheetah on record

In February 1999 a South African cheetah called Nyana was officially timed running 100 meters in a record of 6,08 seconds.

It accelerated from 0 to 80 kilometers per hour in 3,6 seconds.



So the next logical question would be ---- 

How does a cheetah use these features to hunt?


We will have a look at the specific hunting techniques of cheetahs in a moment but first we have to consider their habitat.


What habitat do they prefer?


Cheetahs prefer open grassland and savanna woodland as their favorite habitat.


cheetah habitatCheetah habitat - image credit: Connif and Johns


They typically avoid forest and woodland with thick undergrowth as habitat.

They can operate independent from water.


How do cheetahs adapt to their environment?


Disruptive patterning is a common adaptation in cheetahs.

The spotted pattern of the cheetah reduces possible detection by breaking up the body outline in tall grass.


cheetah habitatCheetahs use spots as a disruptive coloration camouflage


Cheetah life cycle phase 1

Gestation, birth and protecting the babies from danger

Males track down a female in heat from the smell of her urine. Their first approaches are aggressively rebuffed by the female.

During this period the males spray-mark heavily and fight among themselves for mating rights.

They also scratch up small mounds of loose soil and urinate or defecate on top of them.

After one to two weeks of such courtship the female becomes receptive.

She invites copulation by crouching in front of a male.

Mating is not as frequent as in other cats.

facts about cheetahs reproductionCheetah male mounts her from behind with a neck bite

Gestation period 90-95 days.

Litters from one to six cubs are born during anytime of the year.

Shortly before she is ready to give birth the mother makes a den for the cubs. This will be in a quiet hidden spot usually in tall grass.

Cheetah babies start crawling around the den area at four to ten days. This is the time when their eyes begin to open.

At around 3 weeks their first teeth appear.

A mother cheetah will frequently move her litter to protect them from other predators. 


Baby cheetah pictureCubs are born blind and helpless but they develop quickly


Each cub weighs from 250 to 425 grams. Cubs are born completely helpless and with their eyes closed.

Scent and touch are used to find their mother's nipples to suckle and are carefully hidden by their mother in dense cover.


cheetah cubFor their first three months, cubs have a mantle of long, grey hair

It is thought that this makes them look enough like the ill-tempered honey badger (ratel).  This is to dissuade other predators from risking an attack.

This savagely fierce little carnivore is famous for the fact that it has absolutely no problem with running up to a lion or leopard or even a buffalo and driving it away.

 

Cheetah life cycle phase 2

Cubs leave the den, the importance of starting to play, learning how to hunt.

The cubs get their first solid food at about six weeks and are weaned  at three months.


cheetah cubs playing


The games cheetah cubs play demonstrate all phases of hunting. They will "play stalk", "play chase" and knock down their siblings as simulated “prey”.

These  experiences will teach them skills they will need to survive on their own. 


baby cheetahs


At four to five months their mother brings them live prey to practice their hunting skills on.

The mother begins bringing live gazelle fawns and hares for them to practice catching and killing. They seldom master the art of killing before 15 months.


How vulnerable are cheetah cubs to other predators?

In the Serengeti lions kill about 90% of the cubs and only 5% live to independence.

The cubs are very vulnerable to predation and are frequently moved to avoid predators. 

Cheetah cubs fall prey to spotted hyenas and leopards

Lions, spotted hyenas and leopards are the most significant predators of cheetah cubs but even smaller predators like ratels and jackals can kill them.

 

cheetah cubs


Cheetah life cycle phase 3

Becoming independent from mother, becoming a master hunter.

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.


cheetah behaviorA cheetah hunting its prey will start with a slow stalk


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.


cheetah facts for kidsThe cheetah can only sprint 300 yards before rising temperature force it to quit

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.

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 meters while its prey is still unaware of its presence.

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

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

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

Tail

Measures 2 to 3 feet. The tail acts as a rudder for quick turning and balancing.

cheetah running

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.

Eyesight

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

Lungs

Rapid acceleration requires a cheetah to have quick air intake adaptations including enlarged nostrils.


Cheetah chases will lasts for up to 600 meters after which they have to give up the chase. They simply lack the stamina for longer chases.

cheetah information factsCheetahs are successful in about two out of seven hunting attempts

What can a gazelle do to not becoming dinner?

A gazelle can turn sharply and because of the cheetah's greater speed dodge it a few times.  If it manages to do this 3 or 4 times, the cat runs out of steam and it can escape to fight another day.

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.

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.


Cheetah diet


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

This includes springbok, steenbok, impala or alternatively the young of larger species.

Cheetah diet statistics

In the Kalahari 

87% of their kills are springbok.

Kruger National Park

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

Etosha 

97% of their diet is made up of springbok.

They also eat smaller mammals such as hares, springhares, porcupines and ground birds.

They do not usually scavenge.

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

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.


cheetah foodCats like cheetahs are specialized carnivores that capture live prey


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.


cheetah prey catchThey are very dependent on a diet of meat


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.


What sounds do cheetahs make?


They use high-pitched, bird-like chirrups as short-range greeting and contact calls.

They give a loud purr when content.

When threatened they give a loud, barking growl and snarl, often slapping the ground with their forepaws at the same time.


Cheetah life cycle phase 4

Life as an adult cheetah, finding a mate

Adult females are usually solitary, but their cubs stay with them for up to 18 months.

The males often live in small, stable groups called coalitions.

Cheetah coalitions consist of brothers born in the same litter.


cheetah habitat

Serengeti cheetah males defend exclusive areas  of between 39 and 78 square metres.

Most Serengeti adult males partner in coalitions. The statistics available show that 40% of coalitions are pairs and 19% in teams of three.

Most of these coalitions are brothers that have cooperated as a team after splitting up from their mother at the age of of 17 to 23 months.

In such a coalition one cheetah will usually be dominant and control most of the mating opportunities. 


cheetah coalitions

But not being the dominant male is at  least better than being a single cheetah.

In the Serengeti  only 4% of the single males ever win territories.

Another advantage of coalitions is their tendency to kill bigger animals than single hunters. 

Cheetah on their own, have little hope of establishing a territory but in coalitions they have a good chance of securing turf. 

This small group will live and hunt together for life.

They will claim a large area, which may overlap several female territories.


cheetah brothers


Some males hold territories for up to four to six years.

Cheetah territories are scent-marked with sprayed urine.

If the marks are more than a day or two old intruders ignore them and so some areas are used on a 'time-share' basis.


Cheetah scent-mark their territories with sprayed urineCheetah scent-mark their territories with urine


Trespassers who get caught are savagely attacked and sometimes killed.

Large rocks and trees provide traditional marking sites.


cheetah endangered factsCheetah conservation status

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