The cheetah is a member of the cat family and by far the fastest land animal. One of the reasons that it needs to be so quick is that its favorite food, the gazelle, is also one of the speediest land animals on the planet. Cheetahs are tan with round black spots, have a white underbelly, and sport trademark black "tear marks" that run from under the eyes down to the mouth.
A cheetah can attain speeds up to 76 miles per hour but can only sustain them for over a distance of approximately 1,500 feet. Cheetahs can accelerate at an amazing rate, going from a standstill position to as fast as 68 mph in less than three seconds.
The cheetah uses this great speed to hunt. It stalks it prey visually and attempts to get as close as it can before running after it. Cheetahs then will trip up the animal, most often a gazelle, and grab it by the throat, suffocating it or severing an artery.
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Cheetahs have evolved over the years into the fastest land animal with a number of adaptations. The cheetah has an enlarged heart and lungs that enable it to take in lots of oxygen and circulate it in a very effective manner. The nostrils of the cheetah are also larger than most animals its size; the head is small and the waist is thin, with the body long. The cheetah owns long and powerful legs. The cheetah's tail acts like a rudder as it runs. It also has semiretractable claws that allow it to gain ground with every step. Interestingly, the cheetah cannot roar, but it can purr as it inhales.
Cheetahs live in the parts of Africa that have habitats ranging from semidesert and savanna to high grasslands and even mountainous regions. The range of the cheetah is much smaller now than it had been previously. Cheetahs once could be found all through the continent of Africa and into Asia as far as India but now are limited to portions of eastern and southwestern Africa with a small and isolated population living in Iran.
Cheetahs must cool down after they hunt if they expend too much energy running. Getting to such high speeds puts a tremendous toll on their bodies, with their body temperature rising to dangerous heights. Cheetahs have to consume their meal quickly as they are the smallest of the "big cats" and can have their kill taken from them by lions, leopards and hyenas.