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Cheetah Information

Cheetah walking, side view

Quick Cheetah Facts

Family: Felidae (Cats)
Scientific name: Acinonyx jubatus
Average shoulder height: 80 cm
Weight: Males - 54 kg; Females - 43 kg
Gestation period: 3 months (93 days)
Life expectancy: 12-14 yrs

Cheetah head shot showing tear marking Cheetah headshot showing "tear marks" running
down the face from the eyes to the mouth

The cheetah, sometimes refered to as the "greyhound of cats", is tall and slender, with long legs, round head and stumpy muzzle. Its ears are round and the nostrils are large, enabling the cheetah to breathe huge amounts of air into its lungs.

The word "cheetah" comes from the hindi word meaning "spotted one". An adult has yellow or tan fur with solid black, round, or oval spots which cover nearly the whole body. Only the white throat and abdomen are unmarked.

The tail ends with four to six black rings and a bushy, white tuft. The eyes are set high on its head and a black "tear mark" runs from the inner point of the eye down to the corner of the mouth.

Cheetahs are active during the day, mostly in the early morning and evening, because they hunt by sight and need the light.

The adult female cheetahs are usually solitary, but their cubs stay with their mothers for at least a year. Adult males often live in small, strong groups or coalitions. Males hold territories for up to six years, which they mark by spraying urine.

Cheetah are usually found on open plains or light woodland where they can more easily chase down their prey.

Cheetahs have a long, drawn-out courtship. Females have litters of one to five cubs, at any time of the year. The cubs are born blind and helpless, and are therefore hidden in dense plant cover for the first six weeks of there lives.

The cheetah depends on vision rather than sense of smell to detect prey, so hunts mainly during the day and sometimes by the light of the moon. Because they detect their prey by sight, cheetah will often use an elevated vantage point like a termite mound or tree stump to get a better view of their surroundings. Cheetah gripping young impala by throat, Botswana
Cheetah gripping its prey, a young impala, by the neck

When hunting, cheetah stalk up close to their prey and then sprint in for the kill. They are the fastest land mammals on earth and can reach a top speed of 70km per hour, but this speed can only be maintained for a few hundred metres.

Once within striking distance, they will trip their quarry with a swipe of the front paw, then smother the victim by clenching the throat with their teeth. These streamlined cats are, however, usually successful in only two out of seven hunting opportunities.

Cheetah are also mild-natured and non-agressive, so will often lose their kill to other, more agressive predators like lions or spotted hyenas. See Cheetah and Hyena Confrontation for more on this.

The cheetah normally hunts medium-sized antelope weighing up to 60kg (about 130lb) such as impala, but they will hunt larger prey if there are two or more in their group. They also target stragglers or youngsters of larger prey.

The cheetah uses a surprisingly high-pitched, bird-like chirrup as a greeting or short-range calls. They are also known for their loud, grumbling purr in social encounters.

The cheetah is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List 2008, and listed on Appendix 1 of CITES.

For additional information about the cheetah, see our gallery of Cheetah Pictures and our picture sequence, Cheetah Cubs Practice Hunting Skills.

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