Animals Mother And Cub Cheetahs Photo By Lukas Kaffer Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Published on November 25th, 2009 | by Yellow Magpie


The Cheetah: Maestro Of The Chase

Mother And Cub Cheetahs Photo By Lukas Kaffer Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Galloping seemingly in slow motion, the embodiment of grace and elegance one animal inspires more dreams than any other. The Cheetah.

Reaching speeds in excess of 120 kilometres an hour (75 MPH), the cheetah is well-known for being the fastest recorded land animal in the world. Speed alone is a reason why people are attracted to the cheetah. However, their placid nature is often a greatly overlooked factor in explaining their likeability.

A Group Of Cheetahs In South Africa Photo By James Temple

A Group Of Cheetahs In South Africa Photo By James Temple

The name ‘Cheetah’ means ‘varriegated body’ and is derived from Sanskrit. Males are noticeably larger than the females and have a larger head. Cheetahs are not considered to be true big cats due to their inability to roar. However, unlike true big cats, they are capable of purring.

One of the most remarkable aspects of cheetahs are their semi-retractable claws. Unlike most cats, they do not have a sheath of skin on their paws and because of this their claws are always in view.

Delicate Maestro Of The Hunt

Although cheetahs succeed in half of their hunts, they lose 50 per cent of their kills to other predators. The stresses and strains placed upon the animal whilst running are so great that the animal needs to be in optimum health in order to catch its prey.

Cheetah Cub Photo By Muhammad Mahdi Karim GNU Free Documentation License

Cheetah Cub Photo By Muhammad Mahdi Karim GNU Free Documentation License

It cannot afford to get injured and as a result it will almost always back down and leave the meal to other predators if challenged. To receive an injury would almost guarantee that the animal would die from starvation.

Cheetahs hunt by vision. As a result, they only hunt during the day. They often clamber up termite mounds to give themselves a better field of vision to spot prey. They black ‘teardrop’ shaped patches underneath their eyes is thought to help reduce the sun’s glare.

They trip their prey after they succeed in catching up and strangle it by biting the underside of the neck. The cheetah must catch its prey within 30 seconds or its brain starts to dangerously overheat. Their prey includes, gazelle, springbok, and impala. A cheetah can consume up to 15 kg (30 lbs) of meat in a single sitting. It can survive for several days once it has had its fill.

Cheetah Photo By William Warby

Cheetah Photo By William Warby


Importance Of The Cheetah

Cheetahs have always had a close relationship with humans. In Persia and Egypt they were trained to catch antelope and taught to recognise commands in the same ways dogs are today. They also held great economic importance. In the past they were hunted for their valuable fur. Now they provide money for the local people through eco-tourism.

However, because of their relatively passive nature and the ease at which they can be tamed compared to other wild cats, they are often illegally sold as pets.

King Cheetah

A genetic mutation has resulted in the creation of the very rare King Cheetah. Characterised by a black strip running the length of its back and a short mane, it is difficult to miss. Only a handful of these cheetahs have been spotted in the wild. This has been put down to the fact that both the male and female cheetah need to pass on a recessive gene trait in order to bore a king.

King Cheetah Photo By Steve Jurvetson

King Cheetah Photo By Steve Jurvetson

Reintroduction Project

Cheetahs are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity as the female needs to be chased by a group of males before ovulation can begin. There is a programme at foot to reintroduce the animal back to India, where they have become almost extinct. The cheetah nearly died off during the last ice age, roughly 10,000 years ago. A bottleneck developed in which cheetah numbers are said to have fallen to as low as 500 animals.

Vital Statistics

  • Cheetahs can be over 140 cm (4 feet 7 inches) in body length
  • They can weigh over 60 kg (125 lbs).
  • Apart from captive environments in Eastern and Southern Africa. There are also some isolated populations in Iran and India.

Further Reading

Cheetahs of the Serengeti Plains: Group Living in an Asocial Species, at 500 pages, is the definitive guide to cheetahs and their behavour. It is a comprehensive and recommended reading for lovers of the fast cat.

For those who prefer something more easily digested National Geographic : A Cheetah Story is ideal. Despite the sensationalism and anthropomorphism, it makes compelling viewing.
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom you can access Cheetahs of the Serengeti Plains here:
For those living in Canada you can obtain Cheetahs of the Serengeti Plains from here.
For Germany: Cheetahs of the Serengeti Plains.
For France: Cheetahs of the Serengeti Plains.

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