- Cheetah Photo
The cheetah is the fastest land mammal on Earth, capable of
running 64 miles per hour. However, this cat cannot sustain
high speeds for long. Cheetahs typically run in short bursts covering distances
of up to 500 yards. Most chases last less than one minute, so the cheetah must quickly
catch its prey before it escapes.
Cheetahs are designed for speed. Their large nostrils allow
for increased intake of oxygen, and their oversized heart and lungs help power their bodies. The sleek cat uses
the weight of its tail to balance its body through sharp turns, and its spine
acts as a spring for the powerful hind legs.
While other big cats hunt at night, the cheetah often hunts
in the early morning and at dusk, suffocating its prey with a
bite to the neck or the nose. Cheetahs are vulnerable to larger predators, such as
spotted hyenas and lions, which can kill their cubs and steal their prey. Because of its small size, the
cheetah usually avoids fighting, and if confronted (even by just a single hyena), it will often
surrender a kill immediately rather than risk injury.
Cheetahs form unique social groups. Males belong to
permanent groups of two or three individuals, known as coalitions. Females
live alone, except when raising cubs. Male cheetahs stays together for life,
and try to gain access to small territories that they defend from other males
Females, by contrast, can range across immense areas that encompass many
male territories and overlap with those of other females.
|Scientific Name||Acinonyx jubatus|
- Cheetahs are nature’s Olympic sprinters,
accelerating from 0 to 64 mph in three seconds. This is the fastest speed on record
for any creature on land.
- Unlike most cats, the cheetah has claws that are
not fully retractable, and it cannot roar; rather, it chirps, stutters, growls,
yowls, and purrs.
- Humans once tamed and used cheetahs to hunt
animals such as antelopes. Cheetah skins were among the trappings of royalty. The
captive trade of live cheetahs is still a threat.
- Cheetahs favor termite mounds and elevated
points from which to locate prey, relying more on sight than smell.
- Litter size ranges from two to six cubs, though
not all may survive to adulthood.
- Although cheetahs are among the large carnivores
of the African savannah, they are not a threat to human life.
Cheetahs range widely and need large areas of
undisturbed land with sufficient wild prey to survive. Suitable habitats are becoming
increasingly scarce. Though these cats once occurred from South Africa across western Asia
to India, today, fewer than 15,000 survive in patches of habitat
in Africa. The centers of the cheetah’s distribution are in southern and
eastern Africa. Of the five subspecies of cheetah recognized by scientists, the most critically
endangered remain in fragmented habitat in the western Sahara and in
Iran. These populations are thought to number between 60 and 100 respectively,
making them some of the most endangered cats on Earth.
Once hunted for the captive trade, the cheetah now suffers primarily from
loss of habitat and wild prey—including medium and small antelope such as gazelles,
springboks, and impalas, as well as wildebeest, zebras, and other animals. And while cheetahs are
considered important for ecotourism, where the cats live alongside
people, they can come into conflict with livestock and gamekeepers, who sometimes
kill them in retaliation for loss of livestock or game.
Young cheetahs are vulnerable in some parts of their range—predators
kill an estimated 90 percent of cubs. An illegal trade for cubs as pets or for
private collections also exists, although the magnitude of this trade is
unknown. The IUCN Red List labels cheetahs as a whole as Vulnerable. The
North African subspecies is considered Threatened and the Asiatic and northwestern Saharan
subspecies are listed as Critically Endangered.
WCS is working with three of the five cheetah subspecies. Since
the mid-1990s, we have supported studies of East African cheetahs in
Serengeti National Park, in coordination with the Zoological Society of
and Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute. This long-term project has
much of what scientists currently know about wild cheetahs. Researchers
are now expanding the cheetah-monitoring program in the Serengeti to
cover a larger
area of Tanzania.
A WCS-supported survey in the Sahara Desert captured the
first camera-trap photographs of the critically endangered Saharan cheetah in
Algeria. This study is part of the first systematic survey of this subspecies.
So far, the researchers have identified four Saharan cheetahs by using the cats’ spot
patterns, which are unique to each individual. WCS has combined studies of the
Saharan subspecies’ ecology with an in-depth survey of the relationship between
the cat and local Tuareg pastoralist communities. In addition, we are working with Algerian scientists to broaden the efforts to conserve this very rare cat.
In Iran, where many prey species have disappeared, just about 60 Asiatic cheetahs remain. To
promote their survival, an international team of scientists—led by WCS and the
Panthera Foundation—is working with Iran's Department of the Environment. The
researchers have radio-collared two male Asiatic cheetahs in the Bafgh Protected Area in the southwestern part of the central
Iranian plateau, marking the
first time these big cats have been tracked by conservationists.
Given the cheetah’s need for large tracts of undisturbed land
with plenty of prey, scientists have spearheaded a continent-wide conservation
planning exercise. WCS brought together land managers and governments to prioritize
actions and funding strategies to protect the African subspecies. And together with the
Zoological Society of London, we are currently supporting the activities of cheetah
coordinators in southern and eastern Africa, helping them to implement a
range-wide recovery plan.
From the Newsroom
WCS recently celebrated a groundbreaking achievement: collaring snow leopards for the first time in Afghanistan. USA Today reports on this effort--documented by National Geographic--and the larger challenges facing big cats around the world.
WCS and partner organizations have issued a new report emphasizing paramount threats to wildlife in Southern Africa. Illegal hunting, the bushmeat trade, and unselective snaring are compromising already-fragile species.
The government of Tanzania plans to build a highway through Serengeti National Park, potentially disrupting one of the
world’s biggest migrations of large mammals and jeopardizing a popular tourism destination. WCS and partners urge the country's officials to consider alternate routes.