Cheetah Outreach
Cheetah Outreach

Promoting the survival of the free ranging, Southern African cheetah through environmental education and delivering conservation initiatives.
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Cheetah Information
Acinonyx jubatus
Kingdom
Phylum
Class
Order
Family
ANIMALIA
CHORDATA
MAMMALIA
CARNIVORA
FELIDAE
Status IUCN status of sub-Saharan cheetah: Vulnerable.  IUCN status of North African cheetah: Critically Endangered. Listed on United States Endangered Species Act. Listed on CITES Appendix I.
Description The cheetah has a slender, long-legged body with blunt, semi-retractable claws. Its coat is tan with about 2,000 small, round, black spots, and the fur is coarse and short. The cheetah has a small head with high-set eyes. Black "tear marks", which run from the corner of its eyes down the sides of the nose to its mouth, keep the sun out of its eyes and aid in hunting.
Size Adult body length 112-135cm; tail length 65-90cm; shoulder height 70-90cm; weight 35-60kg; male avg. 45-55kg, female avg. 35-40kg.
Specialisations The cheetah’s small streamlined head; long, light limbs; powerful hind legs; flexible shoulders and spine; long muscular tail; semi-retractable claws; enlarged liver and heart; and wide nostrils and increased lung capacity all combine to make it the fastest mammalian sprinter on earth. Covering up to 9 metres in a stride at almost 4 strides per second, the cheetah can reach a top speed of 100km/h or more.  For more than half of every stride, the cheetah is airborne
Distribution Once found throughout Africa, the Middle East and central Asia, the species is now only found in various countries in Africa, with a small population left in Iran.
Habitat Cheetahs can be found in open plains, woodland, savannah, highlands up to 2,000 m, and arid regions extending to desert fringes.  Habitat is determined more by abundance of prey and lack of other big predators, but a balance of cover and visibility is important.
Territory Females are not territorial but roam over home ranges that can vary from 50 sq km to over 3,000 sq km on Namibian farmlands.  Males establish and defend small territories that overlap with ranges of many females.  In Namibia male home ranges average 2,000 sq km but territories they defend are much smaller. Territories are often located where concentrations of game and adequate cover attract large numbers of females.  Males warn intruders to stay away from their territories by scent-marking but sometimes fights occur, resulting in serious injury or death.
Behaviour The cheetah’s social system of solitary females and social males is unique among cats. Females raise cubs on their own, teaching them survival skills:  how to hunt wild prey and avoid other predators, such as lions, leopards and hyenas.  At around 18 months, the mother leaves the cubs, who then form a sibling group, which can stay together for up to 6 months. By 2 years, the female siblings have left the group to establish their own home ranges, but male siblings often remain together for life. Coalitions of 2 to 5 brothers, and sometimes unrelated males, are formed to better acquire and defend territories.

Cheetahs use places of elevation—rocks, termite mounds and play trees (sloping trees with large horizontal limbs) as observation points and scent posts.  A variety of vocalizations include chirping like a bird, churring or stutter-calling, moaning in distress and growling, snarling and hissing in anger or fright.  Cheetahs purr just like a domestic cat when content. 

Cheetahs do not pose a threat to human life.

Hunting

Cheetahs are diurnal, hunting in the early morning and late afternoon.  They use their extraordinary eyesight to locate prey, including small to medium antelope, young of larger antelope, young warthogs, hares and game birds.  Cheetahs use any cover to get as close as possible, preferably within 30 metres, before chasing selected prey animals. Chases last an average of about 20 seconds, and rarely more than 1 minute. Being sprinters, cheetahs can only maintain high speeds for 300 to 400 metres before tiring and over-heating.  Prey is tripped and then suffocated with a clamping bite to the underside of the neck.  Solitary females and males may hunt every 2 to 3 days but females with cubs need to hunt every day.  Of all big African predators, the cheetah is second only to the wild dog in hunting success, with an average success rate of 50%.  In some habitats, up to 50% of cheetah kills are stolen by other predators.

Reproduction Females reach sexual maturity at 20-24 months and males at 2-3 years.  The gestation period is 90-95 days.  Litters vary from 1 to 9 but the average is 3-5 cubs.  Cubs are dark underneath and light on top, with a long, silver-grey mantle of hair running down their necks and backs.  The mantle is thought to camouflage the cub in grass, hiding it from predators.  It also works as a mimicry defense by resembling a honey badger (ratel), a fierce animal avoided by most predators.  Cubs nurse 2-4 months and start eating meat at 4-6 weeks.  They leave their den at 8 weeks and start following their mother.
Life Span The average life span in captivity is 10-12 years though cheetahs can live as long as 20 years.  In the wild, few survive more than 8 years though they can live up to 10 or 12 years.  Cub mortality is extremely high for the species in both the wild and captivity. They are most vulnerable from 6 weeks to 4 months and in open habitat like the Serengeti plains, less than 5% reach adulthood.  Predation by lions and hyenas accounts for over 70% of mortality.
Natural History Cheetahs have been kept in captivity for some 5,000 years. However, they breed poorly, and in the past the captive population has been maintained through wild collection. Cheetahs suffer from a lack of genetic diversity making them more susceptible to disease and decreased production of young. Many parks and reserves in Africa are ‘conservation islands’, too small to avoid inbreeding of cheetahs; in other conservation areas, cheetahs face competition from large populations of lions, leopards and hyenas that prey on their cubs, steal their kills, and occasionally kill adult cheetahs.  Evolution has favoured speed, and not strength for this species.
Survival Threats Loss of habitat, decline in prey, poaching, persecution by livestock farmers, and competition with other large predators in protected areas, threaten the survival of the cheetah throughout its range.
Legal Protection As a protected species in southern Africa, people are allowed to remove cheetahs only if they pose a threat to livestock or human life. Unfortunately, some farmers capture cheetahs indiscriminately, often removing or killing those that have not taken any livestock. Limited international trade in live animals and skins is permitted from Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Illegal trade in other parts of Africa and indiscriminate capture and removal in southern Africa continue to threaten the survival of this species.
Conservation To help this sleek hunter of the African wild win it's race against extinction, we must:

1.
Help protect its habitat and insure a place for it on African farmlands.

2.
Aid in the conservation of its wild prey base.

3.
Halt the indiscriminate capture and removal of cheetahs from the wild.

4.
Improve livestock management.

5.  Educate everyone about the need to conserve biological diversity and the predator’s unique role in a healthy ecosystem.
Captivity CHEETAHS ARE WILD ANIMALS. Capture of wild cheetahs threatens the survival of the species in two ways. First, the removal of individuals reduces the species’ genetic diversity in the wild. And secondly, cheetahs do not breed well in captivity. The Asian cheetah is nearly extinct because of its capture for private use. Special dietary requirements, special needs, and unpredictable behavior make this a poor pet. Wild instincts remain intact even with tamed and captive-raised animals
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