15 Interesting Things You Didn’t Know About Cheetah

Hailed as the fastest land animal, with its magnificently marked pelts, cheetah is an iconic big cat probably due to their agility. Check out a few other scintillating things you might not know about the animal.

  1. Cheetahs are almost clones of each other

Thanks to ice age, cheetahs were almost wiped out of the earth’s face. This mass extinction that began 10,000 to 12,000 years ago exterminated the saber-toothed tiger and almost killed all the cheetahs but luckily, a few survived and interbred to save their species.

This population bottleneck significantly reduced the gene pool so much that today cheetahs are virtually each other’s clones.

As a result, cheetah lacks genetic diversity which has some serious consequences like difficulty in reproducing, sperm abnormalities and genetic diseases which results in high infant mortality rate.

  1. Approximately 50-70% cubs don’t make it past 3 months

Sadly, the mortality rate among the cubs is pretty high, and most of them die within the first three months of life since they’re susceptible to predators and diseases which leave the species on the danger of decline.

Currently, Cheetah is one of the most endangered big cats in Africa, classified as vulnerable and red listed by the IUCN with a little over 6,500 adults only on the wild.

However, cub mortality is only a fraction of the problems that cheetahs face; they are also entangled on human-wildlife conflicts, losing their habitats and they’re poached for their skin especially on the Eastern parts of Africa

Pair of cheetahs
Pair of cheetahs
  1. ‘Cita’ (Cheetah) is an Indian name

If you imagine a picture of a sprinting cheetah, it’s highly likely you’ll conjure a spectacular backdrop of African savannah.

However, despite the fact that the biggest population of cheetah is found in Africa, they once slinked around the grasslands in Asia. In fact, the name cheetah originated from India. Unfortunately, the Asiatic cheetah, the graceful subspecies that was once found in the Arabia, Pakistan, and Persia is all but extinct now.

Nonetheless, there are a few (less than 50 individuals)  cheetahs in Iran.

  1. Cheetah’s have remarkable adaptations that allow such extreme precision, speed and balance

With a single stride, a cheetah can cover approximately six meters. But what’s more interesting is their ability to accelerate from zero to over 60 mph in just a matter of seconds.

Additionally, all other cats’ claws are retractable, but Cheetah is an exception. You see, these sprinters need their claws out most of the time ready to take off after their prey. However, the claws are still semi-retractable and they help cheetahs gain traction against the ground.

But, unlike leopards and lions cheetahs don’t have sharp claws or tall teeth to rip their prey apart. In contrast, they wrestle the prey to the ground before choking the animal to death, a process that can take up to 5 minutes.

Now, these big cats are not only awesome in acceleration but also at stopping. In order to stop abruptly, cheetahs have a specialized pointed pad at the back of its front limbs. So, while sprinting at full speed, the cheetah can slam the two front limbs, the pointed pads tear into the ground and bring the cat into almost an instantaneous halt.

On the other hand, cheetah’s tail has a flat surface like the boat’s rudder which offers steady support and body balance as the cat runs. This helps the cheetah to make sharp twists and turns during high-speed chases. The tail basically helps them to switch and steer within the course they want to go.

Their unique spotted body helps the cheetah camouflage with the savannah surrounding which makes it easier to hide from their prey.

  1. They have amazing eyesight

Thanks to the black tear marks running from the inner eyes to the mouth, a cheetah can run straight towards the sun and still see in details. The black lines acts as sunblock absorbing the sunlight and protecting the cheetah’s eyes from the sun’s glare.

  1. Cheetah spend most of their time lazing around

Even though they’re famed for their extraordinary sprinting ability according to a study conducted in 2014 cheetahs spend most of their time sitting around – almost 90 percent of their days.

The study found that the cheetahs spend only 10% of their day slowly strolling through the savannah – the rest of the day is spent relaxing, probably conserving all the energy for the big speed show.

  1. They’re different from other felines

Out of all the big cats, cheetah is the odd one out. While it’s a foregone conclusion that speed is their strongest weapon there are a couple of things associated with other big cats that cheetah aren’t proficient at.

For instance, they can’t roar instead they bark, meow or make chirping sounds. Also, compared to other felines they’re not that good in climbing trees.

In addition, their night vision isn’t so good either. In fact, although they can see up to three miles away during the day, cheetahs are non-nocturnal preferring to hunt at dusk or early morning.

  1. Female cheetahs are solitary

Cheetahs are typically solitary animals and while male cheetahs live in small groups of other male siblings known as coalitions, females tend to be solitary hunters socializing with males occasionally- mostly when mating.

They raise their offspring single handedly for about a year after which the mother goes back to solitary.

Since the male cheetah doesn’t help in cub rearing the female moves the cubs regularly from one spot to another to ensure protection from predators.

  1. Why cheetahs have become endangered

The difficulties encountered by cheetah are exacerbated by man-made coercion. Growing human population and the wide spread of agriculture practices in most parts of Africa have decreased the territory of cheetahs as well as their prey.

Most farmers believe cheetahs pose a threat to their livestock and they often try to kill them.

Also, cheetah is the weakest of all the larger predators like lions, wild dogs and leopards so when they compete for land with these predators they end up killed.

Unfortunately, they’re made to run not to wrestle so they’re often killed or attacked by bigger and more dangerous animals.

Since cheetahs are not strong enough to compete with other predators when they make a kill they tend to lose when it comes to hunting which means they can easily starve to death in the competitive wild.

According to the research there are thought to be less than 750 left in the world. Compared to the world population of over 100,000 cheetahs in 1990, the future of this big cat is uncertain.

  1. They were kept as pets in the Middle East

A domesticated cheetah would be fine around people. In fact, historically, they were domesticated and used as hunters for over 5000 years in Northern Africa and Asia.

Although the cheetah was mostly hunted for their skin most of them were kept as pets especially by Egyptians. There are painting and statues that date back to the Egypt’s ancient kingdom although the oldest paintings of cheetah are believed to have been made by the Sumerians.

  1. They’re actually shy

Generally, most big cats are not man killers and they rarely attach humans because there are shy.  Cheetah is not any different- even though they hunt during the day they mostly try to hide when they see people. That’s why it’s pretty a challenge to spot one while on a safari.

But of course, they’re not docile, they’re predators and they might defend themselves against human if they feel threatened.

  1. They can’t taste sweet

Just like the rest of the big cats, cheetah can’t taste sweet and they’re carnivores meaning they survive purely on meat.

They generally hunt small animals like the springbok, Thomson’s gazelle, impalas, duiker and steenbok. They also feed on rabbits and wildebeests calves occasionally and other smaller animals like hares or even birds.

  1. They can survive a couple of days without water

Cheetahs have adapted and evolved to survive in environment where water is pretty scarce and so they can survive with a single drink for days.

Cheetah And Cubs
Cheetah And Cubs
  1. They’re commonly mistaken

Most people mistake leopard for a cheetah or vice versa. While both of them are big cats they’re different breeds with distinct differences.

The most obvious difference between the two cats is their coat’s patterns and while at first glance they may appear like they both have spotted coats a cheetah has solid oval or round spots and leopard has rosettes.

Cheetahs have a strapping narrow waist and sturdy legs and a deep chest. It weighs between 75 and 140 pounds and about three feet tall.

Cheetahs also have the tear mark which runs down their face and they have a smaller head (Cat-like) with a long neck. Another different character between a cheetah and a leopard is the hunting time. A leopard is a nocturnal animal while a cheetah is active during the day.

Lastly, yet importantly, the leopard is the smallest big cat and although they’re stronger and bulkier the cheetah is much lighter and taller.

  1. A Cheetah’s ring pattern at the tail and the spots are unique

Just like people’s fingerprints cheetah’s ring pattern and spots are unique to each individual animal.

Life of a cheetah (basic facts)

A cheetah passes through three major stages in its lifecycle; a cub, adolescence and adult life.

Cheetahs have a gestation period of 93 days and the litter ranges between 1 and six cubs (litters of up to 8 cubs have been recorded before but they’re rare)

Cubs weigh between 240 and 420 grams at birth and just like house kittens they’re usually blind. The female cheetah takes care of the cubs for about two days after birth before resuming the hunting games.

cheetah yawning

At about six weeks of age, the cubs slowly begin to follow their mother on her prey travels.

The long hair running from cub’s neck all the way to the base of their tail is called mantle and it makes the vulnerable cubs blend easily with the tall grass which keeps them safe from threats of predators.

Between four and six months of age, the cubs are super active and playful. Around this age, trees acts as a great training ground for both balance and observation skills.

Learning to hunt is one of the most critical skills the cubs should develop within the first year of life since at this age they participate in hunting with their mother. Hunting requires different skills including prey detection, stalking, chasing, finally capturing the prey and killing it by the means of suffocation.

The best places to spot cheetah in the wild

Cheetah locations
Cheetah locations

With cheetah nearly entirely extinct in Asia, Africa is the perfect destination to spot these incredible creatures. There are protected areas such as game reserves and national parks where tourists have a great chance of seeing cheetahs.

The Masai Mara

Masai Mara is a renowned safari destination and one of the best places to spot a cheetah in the wild. Situated on the southern part of Kenya and bordering the vast plains of Serengeti, Tanzania, Masai Mara offers unparalleled opportunity to watch cheetahs preying just a few meters away.

The famed great migration happens here annually and it’s the best time of the year to visit where masses of wildebeests and plain game migrate from Tanzania to Kenya closely pursued by predators that include cheetahs.

Etosha National Park

This exceptional park is found in Namibia and it’s one of the best places for game-viewing in the country. This enormous expanse of grassland is home to a remarkable variety of wildlife species including the Big Five and cheetah.

Phinda Private Game Reserve

Located in KwaZulu Natal province in South Africa, Phinda Game Reserve spans over 23,000 hectares and is made up of different habitats ranging from savannah woodlands to marshes and grasslands. Besides being home to a wide range of wildlife species the reserve is famed for its cheetah population.

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