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A couple of times while on a Kenya safari holiday, I have heard people confuse the cheetah for a leopard. And rightly so for the eye seeing the cheetah for the first time.
It has been recorded as the most primitive cat and one of the distinguishing marks are the long tear-drop shaped lines on each side of the nose from the corner of its eyes to its mouth. These helps keep the sun out of its eyes and aid in hunting. The coat is tan, or buff colored, with black spots measuring from ¾ to 1 ¼ inches across.
The belly is white with no spots and, the tail has spots which merge to form four to six dark rings at the end.
The tail usually ends in a bushy white tuft. They measure about 4.3 to 4.9 ft, head and body.
Male cheetahs are slightly larger than females and have a slightly bigger head, but it is difficult to tell males and females apart by appearance alone. It is a vulnerable species. Out of all the big cats, it is the least able to adapt to new environments. They have always proved difficult to breed in captivity with very few successes. Once widely shot for its fur, the cheetah now suffers more from the loss of both habitat and prey.
Cheetahs lives up to 12 -15 years in wild and in captivity, 17 years have been recorded.
They mostly hunt fawns (young ones of antelopes) and gazelles are their top prey. Others include Rodents, hares and sometimes game birds e.g… Guinea fowl.
They mate throughout the year and reach sexual maturity at 20-24 months.
After a gestation period of 90-95 days, a litter of up 12 (personally witnessed, Masai Mara game reserve, 2001) cubs are born. 8 are more common but in most of the cases it is a litter of 2-5.
After five or six weeks, cubs follow their mothers and share her kill. Cheetah cubs wean at about three months old.
The cheetah’s flexible spine, oversized liver, enlarged heart, wide nostrils, increased lung capacity, and thin muscular body make this cat the swiftest hunter in Africa. Covering 7-8 meters in a stride, with only one foot touching the ground at a time, the cheetah can reach a speed of 110 km/h in seconds. At two points in the stride, no feet touch the ground. The fastest animal on land, has tall slim legs and with semi-retractable craws. This aids the cat in its high speed hunting splints. The spots help to camouflage in its surrounding. This makes it easy to miss in Kenya safaris
A fully grown cheetah can reach speeds in excess of 60 mph.
Famous as the animal of the open area cheetahs are usually found in the grasslands, desert-like plains, savannahs, and like areas that have tall grass. That is why they usually are found in some places in Africa. Before, they were found in some parts of India and all over Africa, but now only maybe 20-30% of Africa.
They hunt mainly during the day and thus avoid other predators like lions and leopards. Cheetahs stalk their prey, approaching to within about 50 feet before dashing out from cover and sprinting at the targeted animals. Cheetahs grab their victims’ throats and suffocate their quarry within a few minutes. After securing their meal, they may drag it to nearby cover. Despite their best efforts to hide their catches, their kills are often stolen by larger predators and picked at by hordes of vultures. Lions and hyenas also eat cheetah cubs; lions and leopards also kill adults.
Future of the Cheetah
The cheetah is an endangered species. Scientists have found that many cheetahs suffer from genetic defects due to inbreeding, possibly the result of a population bottleneck—a sharp decline—that occurred perhaps as far back as 10,000 years ago. Among other things, inbreeding could raise cub mortality, lower cheetahs’ resistance to disease, and cause infertility. An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 wild cheetahs survive. Cheetah strongholds, where possible, must be connected to allow genetic interchange if this species is to survive. Its habitat is being destroyed by humans and there is also the problem of poachers. And luckily many zoos have taken the effort to protect them and breed them.
Interesting Cheetah Facts
*Female Cheetahs have been known to catch live prey for their cubs to use as hunting practice.
*The Cheetah was trained by man for hunting as long as 3000 BC
*Cheetahs were once raced against greyhounds
*The Cheetah makes facial expressions, using the bold black lines around its mzzle to signal its mood.
*From a standstill, the cheetah can reach its top speed in about 3 seconds, and can cover almost 33 inches in a single stride.
*Fastest land mammal on Earth; over short distances it can reach a speed of over 60 mph
*Cheetah cubs are born with long, grey fur. Some naturalists think that this mimics the ratel, a fierce relative of the badger that few animals dare attack
*Cheetahs don’t need to drink water, as they get the moisture they need from the bodies of their prey.
*Cheetahs are the only cats that, while sprinting, can turn in midair to follow their prey.
*Cheetah cubs have a long mane on their neck and shoulders that disappears as they get older.
*Cheetahs can accelerate to freeway speeds in just a few strides
*The cheetah is listed as endangered on the World Conservation Union’s(IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Animals.
Article contributed by P.K.Philip,