The cheetah is a beautiful large cat with a spotted coat noted for its incredible bursts of speed. It is the fastest animal on land. The name cheetah is an accurate description of this animal since it is an Indian word meaning spotted one.
Cheetahs have long been associated with royalty. Ancient Egyptians kept them for pets and exalted them for their hunting prowess. Cheetahs were once abundant throughout Africa, Asia and India, but their numbers have been greatly reduced due to loss of natural habitat, poaching, illegal selling of cubs and other factors. Approximately 10,000 cheetahs currently remain in Africa, and small groups of cheetahs are found in other areas such as Iran.
Cheetahs are mostly solitary animals. Females are usually loners except when they are raising cubs. Males may form a small group with other males called a coalition. Males are very territorial and will mark their territory with urine. A male cheetah may remain with a female and cubs for a short time after mating, but the female is mainly responsible for rearing the cubs and teaching them to hunt. Cheetahs can reach speeds of 75 miles per hour in short bursts and can accelerate from 0 to 68 miles per hour in 3 seconds.
The cheetah has a long, slim body and small head. The fur is short and coarse in texture. The cheetah has a tan coloring with black spots. The underside of the body is white with no spots. The cheetah's tail is long with black rings and a white tuft at the end. Its most characteristic physical attributes are the dark tear marks that run from the corners of the eyes down the side of the nose to the mouth. Cheetahs weigh approximately 90 to 140 pounds and measure 44 to 53 inches in length.
The lifespan of a cheetah is approximately 10 to 12 years in the wild, or up to 20 years or longer in captivity. Mating usually doesn't take place until the age of 3 years. Females give birth to an average litter of 3 to 5 cubs after a gestation period of 3 months. Cubs are born with spots and a downy fur called the mantle that extends down their back, although this fur is shed as the cub grows older. The mother moves the cubs to a new hiding place every few days to protect them from predators.
The cheetah is a carnivore preying mostly on small mammals such as the gazelle. Cheetahs are most active during the day and hunt either in the early morning or evening hours. Cheetahs are not overly aggressive animals, and even with their intense speed, hunts are not always successful. They often rest once they have obtained their prey to recover from the strain of the chase. Contrary to what many people believe, cheetahs pose little or no threat to humans or domestic livestock;they would prefer to take flight and avoid conflict with humans.
Cheetahs are an endangered species. Cubs have a high mortality rate due to predators such as the hyena, lion and others. Inbreeding has caused genetic abnormalities that also contribute to the high rate of mortality. Cheetahs play an important role in the stability of the ecosystem as do all species. There are several breeding programs that are continuing in their work to conserve and increase the population of these amazing animals.