They are smaller, smoother and sleeker than any other member of the big cat family.
When you have a look at their aerodynamic body structure; extra-large heart and lungs, narrow waist, flexible spine, long legs and big muscles – it is clear this specimen was made for speed!
But there’s a relevant question being asked by wildlife biologists these days: are Cheetahs fast enough to outrun extinction?
Cheetahs are mainly to be found in sub-Saharan Africa. Some very sparse and fragmented populations are also found in southern Algeria, northern Niger and Iran.
Their natural habitat can vary from grasslands, Savannah, scrub lands and deserts, but generally these cats require open plains to thrive. As they rely on speed when hunting, extensive areas without dense vegetation are their favorite. Dry climates and above sea level altitudes are also preferable.
- The word “cheetah” derives from the Hindi word “Chita” meaning “spotted one”
- Cheetahs can reach a top speed of around 110 kilometres per hour in just over 3 seconds (faster than a sports car accelerates!). Although super fast, they can sustain their maximum speed for only a very short time. Hunting success is a combination of speed, strategy and a camouflage; it involves getting as close to prey as possible and choosing the right time to attack. On average, every second chase results in a kill.
- Often confused with leopards; cheetahs can be recognized by the long black lines spreading from the inside of each eye to the mouth. These so called “tear lines” are believed to serve as an eye protection from the sun and to help them to see long distances when hunting.
- Cheetahs are carnivores and feed on smaller prey, such as springboks, hares, young wildebeest, warthogs, and birds.
- Living in an environment where water is usually scarce, they have the ability to survive on just one drink every three or four days.
- They live in small groups consisting of a mother and her young or a coalition of males (siblings mostly) who hunt together. Adult females usually live in solitude except when they meet for mating.
- Cheetahs are the only big cats that neither roar nor climb trees.
- They purr loudly instead and have an ability to mimic some birds (the sound they produce is called a “chirrup”).
- Cheetahs hunt during the day due to a poor night vision and to avoid competition from stronger predators like lions, leopards or hyenas.
- They have been kept in captivity for over 5000 years because they can be tamed easily in comparison to the other wild cats (we still definitely recommend you do not try!). Kings and emperors used them as pets and hunting partners.
- Approximately 6600 adults remain in the wild today (in contrast to 100,000 in 1900).
- Only about 5% of cubs survive to adulthood.
The cheetah is currently the most endangered big cat in Africa and is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red list. The species currently inhabits just 10% of their historic range.
Cheetahs used to be a common sight in Africa, some parts of the Arabian Peninsula, Asia and even Europe. Currently we are left with sparsely scattered populations found mainly in Namibia, Kenya and a few other African countries.
The Asiatic subspecies (found only in Iran) is critically endangered.
These cats are still being traded illegally as pets and are victims of the fur industry.
Over-hunting, competition with larger predators and local farmers, as well as the loss of genetic variation that comes with a declining population, are the main factors putting the remaining Cheetah population at risk of extinction.
With the expansion of humans, cheetah natural habitat has been reduced drastically. When Cheetahs have difficulty in finding their natural prey, they often attack livestock, which lead to farmers killing them to protect their own livelihood. The felines require large areas of land for survival, so increased human settlements and road constructions pose the biggest threats to their survival.
Conservation strategies are focused on:
- Securing habitats for the long-term survival of Cheetahs and their ecosystems
- Reducing human-Cheetah conflict by implementation of farm management practices that could limit livestock losses from predators
- Conducting conservation research
- Running educational programs directed at the farmers, public and schools
I believe we are still capable of helping these extraordinary cats to win this race for survival, the most important race ever!