Size Body length: 113-140 cm; Tail length: 60-84 cm
Weight 35-65 kg
Gestation 3 months
Young 1-8 cubs
Life span Up to 20 years
Cheetahs feed on a wide variety of prey, but especially small to medium-sized hoofed animals such as gazelle, kob and impala. They will also prey on ground-dwelling birds, small mammals such as hares and larger hoofed animals. In Iran, cheetahs are known to eat gazelle, wild sheep, hares, and also to take livestock. Cheetahs may lose up to 10% of their kills to other larger carnivores including lions, leopards and hyenas.
Cheetahs used to be found across a large part of Africa, but are now mainly found in southern and eastern Africa, primarily in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania. They are also found in small numbers in central Saharan mountain ranges, and in Iran. Cheetahs are adapted to dry conditions, and are mainly found in open grassland and savannahs, but also dry forest, semi-desert, and shrubland.
Female cheetahs can have their first litter after the age of two. Cubs of the same litter may have several different fathers. Cheetah cubs are born in a lair, which may be long grass, thickets or a burrow. They stay hidden in the lair for the first two months of their life, with their mother leaving to hunt in the morning and returning to them in the evening. Over two-thirds of cheetah cubs die during the first two months of their life, mainly because they are preyed upon by other carnivores. Cubs that do survive stay with their mother for about 18 months, and then stay with their litter mates for a further six months. Females will then leave their siblings, but brothers stay together for life.
Cheetah cubs are killed by a variety of predators, including lions, hyenas, and leopards, as well as smaller predators such as honey badgers, jackals and secretary birds.
Cheetahs face a number of threats. They are very vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation. Cheetahs that live outside protected areas are sometimes killed by farmers in retaliation for killing livestock. They are sometimes persecuted by game farmers who see them as competitors for their game. Cheetahs also face threats from a loss of prey due to hunting and competition with livestock.
Cheetahs are included on Appendix I of CITES which means that international trade in cheetahs or any of their parts is illegal. They are protected in most of their range, and in Africa nearly all states are actively involved with conservation programs and have developed regional and national strategies to help conserve cheetahs. In addition, there are several projects and organisations in southern and eastern Africa which also help with cheetah conservation.
Cheetahs are the fastest land mammals, and can reach speeds of up to 64 miles (103 km) per hour.
Cheetahs use their high speed to catch prey, but can only maintain their top speeds for a few hundred metres.
Every cheetah has its own unique spot pattern.
Cheetahs have semi-retractable claws to give them extra grip when running and turning at high speed.
The name ‘cheetah’ comes from the Hindi word ‘chita’, which means ‘spotted one’.
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