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Cheetah in the grass of southern Serengeti.
  More about cheetahs
Scientific name:
Acinonyx jubatus
Swahili name:
Weight: 35–65 kg/80–145 lb.
Body length: 110–150 cm/45–60 in.
Tail length: 65–90 cm/25–35 in.
12 (wild) to 17 (captive) years.
The maximum speed is more than 100 km/h or 60 mph. For this reason, and unlike other cats, it has non-retractile claws.
Wild cheetahs are found in sub-Saharan Africa, mainly in East Africa and southern Africa (except for South Africa). Its high-speed hunting takes fairly open and flat hunting grounds.
Mating can occur all year round, followed by three months of gestation. Litters may vary from 1 to 8 cubs, but 3 to 4 cubs are most common. The cubs open their eyes after 1 or 2 weeks, start following their mother and eating meat after 5 to 6 weeks, and are weaned after about 3 months. The female keeps moving the cubs between hiding places until they start following her. They stay with her for 1 to 2 years, and reach maturity when 20 to 24 months old.
  More web sites
By African Wildlife Foundation.
By Big Cats Online.
By Defenders of Wildlife.
Cheetah Conservation Fund
Safari glossary
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Wildlife & nature:
The cheetah is popular with most safari-goers, and your chances to see it in East Africa are good, provided you visit park where it is known to live. Unlike other cats, it hunts in daylight, so it's active during the days, when you are game driving.

Hunting by speed
It is the fastest of all land mammals, capable of speeds exceeding 100 km/h or 60 mph. It utilizes its speed when hunting, which it mainly does in open land, such as grassland and savanna. The cheetah first tries to approach its prey as close as possible, either by staying out of sight behind shrubs, in depressions etc, or by openly moving straight towards the prey, relying on it's camouflage marking. When close enough, it quickly accelerates and races towards the prey. The cheetah is a sprinter, and if it doesn't catch the prey within a few hundred metres/yards, it abandons the attempt. If the prey is caught and toppled over, the cheetah suffocates it by biting its throat, or sometimes its muzzle, keeping the grip until the prey is dead.

Cheetah on the lookout for prey in the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania.

Can't protect the food
As the cheetah hunts in daylight, soaring vultures may quickly find out that it has made a kill, and start circling the spot. This may attract larger predators, such as lions or hyaenas, which can easily steal the prey; the much weaker cheetah rarely tries to protect the food, but abandons it when the lions or hyaenas approach. If possible, the cheetah may try to hide the kill by dragging it into shrubs or high grass before starting to eat, to prevent vultures from seeing it. Cheetahs have even been known to hide their prey below safari jeeps.

Once it starts eating, the cheetah bolts its food, to minimize the loss, should a competitor turn up to steal it. Cheetahs have been observed eating 14 kg/30 lb of meat in one sitting. Once it has finished eating, it abandons the remains, and doesn't return for more later. It always eats freshly killed prey; it is the only large predator in Africa that doesn't eat carrion.

Cheetahs hunt alone or in small groups, usually consisting of a mother and her cubs or two or three brothers or sisters. Its most common prey are herbivores weighing up to 40 kg/90 lb, for example gazelles, impalas and calves of larger antelopes. It may also hunt rabbits and hares. Two male cheetahs may also tackle larger prey, and have been seen hunting zebras and young buffalos.

Cheetah portrait.

Cheetah enemies
Apart from larger carnivores, such as hyaenas and lions that may steal food and kill cubs, the cheetah's main enemy is us humans. The main reason is its spotted fur, used for expensive clothing. Most African countries have legislation protecting the cheetah, but hunting has not stopped altogether. Also safari tourism may be a threat to cheetahs, at least to small populations in small parks. It is a popular animal, and safari vehicles crowding around may disturb its hunting attempts.

The African cheetahs (it is very close to extinct outside of Africa) have little genetic variation. This is probably a result from some stage in the history of the cheetah, when the total population of the species consisted of few individuals. Poor genetic variation makes a species vulnerable to epidemics.

Three cheetahs scouting the Serengeti plains.

Cheetahs on safaris
Cheetahs are found in many parks, but not in great numbers, so they are not as easily seen as for example lions. Your best chances are in renowned cat parks, such as Serengeti and Ngorongoro in Tanzania and Masai Mara in Kenya. Cheetahs prefers open land, so you won't find them in mountains or forests.

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Page updated 18 February 2009