The cheetah is a cat of the Felidae family found primarily in Africa, with few numbers found in Iran. The cheetah is known for its long spotted body and long limbs used for chasing prey. With a top speed of 70 miles per hour, the cheetah is the fastest animal on land. In recent years, the cheetah’s habitat has been extensively destroyed, pushing this cat to become an endangered species with only 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild.
4. Physical Description
The most distinctive physical attributes of the cheetah is its spotted coat with the spots also present on its long tail. The cheetah is one of the smallest of the big cats with weights ranging between 46-71 pounds. The cheetah has a long, slender body and long, thin legs suitable for running at high speeds with its long, muscular tail acting as a rudder to give balance. The cat displays sexual dimorphism, with males being bigger than females. The cheetah’s paws have claws which, unlike those in other cats, are non-retractable. This gives the cheetah increased traction for quick acceleration.
The cheetah is a strict carnivore and predator who rarely scavenges. The cheetah prefers to hunt for the medium-sized animals with weights between 51-123 pounds including the impala, duiker, springbok, and gazelle. In Southern Africa, the preferred prey is the Larger Nyala, weighing up to 290 pounds, while in East Africa the preferred prey is the Thomson’s gazelle, weighing up to 77 pounds. While cheetahs are primarily solitary hunters, in some instances the cats hunt as a team and bring down prey as large as the 1000-pound African buffalo. While hunting, the cheetah relies on its speed and will first stalk prey to within 330-980 feet while concealing itself with the surrounding vegetation cover. The chase is usually short as the cheetah has a small heart and will give up if it fails to capture prey within one minute. The cat then takes its hunt to a concealed location to avoid attracting other predators and scavengers. Cheetahs consume as much as 22 pounds of meat in a single meal.
2. Habitat and Range
The cheetah is usually found in the savannah and scrub regions of Africa and prefers areas with significant vegetation cover in order to give it disguise while stalking prey. However, the cheetah can also be found in the desert and woodland regions, albeit with extremely low population densities. Historically, the cheetah was distributed all over Africa, Asia, North America and Europe. The large-scale destruction of its habitat compounded by increased poaching exterminated the cat from most of its original range with its total range expanse seeing a decline of about 89%. The cheetah is now only found in small numbers in East Africa, in the Sahara and to a lesser extent in Iran.
The cheetah ranks low on temperament in comparison to other big cats. There is no record of a cheetah ever killing a human. The cat shows aggression when defending its kill from scavengers or when protecting cubs, when the cheetah snarls and hisses while stomping the ground with its front limbs.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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