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Animal Data > Cheetah

(Acinonyx jubatus)

Status Distribution Sexually Mature
Vulnerable African savannah and parts of S.W. Asia. 18 months
Number of Young Gestation Life Span
3 95 days 18 years

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Cheetahs inhabit open savannah and are never found in dense forest. Most large cats rely on surprise and ambush for hunting but in the open savannah the cheetah has had to adopt a different approach. It locates its prey (usually small antelope or gazelle) with its good eyesight, rather than by smell or sound. It tries to get fairly close to its prey using its camouflage and the long grass. When it is close it accelerates to speeds of up to 70m.p.h. to catch its prey (the victim is often the weakest member of the herd). The cheetah's claws act as 'studs', gripping the ground when it is running so they are gradually worn down.

The cheetah lacks stamina for a long chase and after 400 - 500m it is exhausted. Around half of its chases are therefore unsuccessful. Even when the prey is killed (suffocated by a bite to the throat), it is often 'stolen' by lions, leopards, hyenas or hunting dogs, which the cheetah is too tired to fight off. Cheetahs usually hunt alone, at daybreak, although mothers and cubs may hunt together.

Cubs are born at any time of the year. For the first ten weeks of their life the cubs differ greatly from the adults in appearance. They have an unspotted, silvery-white mane and coat, and a dark spotted underside. It has been suggested that these markings are a form of mimicry, as the cubs resemble the Honey Badger, a vicious animal. This mimicry makes cheetah cubs less vulnerable from attack by lions, leopards and hyenas. Cubs leave their mother between the ages of one and two.

Cheetahs are becoming increasingly rare, particularly with the threat from hunting for the fur trade and for sport. Habitat destruction is also reducing numbers. The Asiatic cheetah is now considered endangered.

Main Features

Spotted, with a narrow, lithe body and long legs. Distinctive black lines from eyes to mouth. Non-retractable claws (cannot be pulled back into their paws).

The cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world. It is legendary in its ability to accelerate to speeds of 70m.p.h. It can only keep this speed up for short distances so it must also stalk its prey if the hunt is to be a success.

In Captivity

Cheetahs have been kept in captivity for over 3000 years. The ancient Egyptians used tamed cheetahs for hunting during the Middle Ages in southern Asia. Cheetahs are not easy to breed in captivity but at Marwell we have had considerable success.

We feed our cheetahs on joints of pork and lamb, sprinkled with a vitamin and mineral supplement.

©2009 Marwell Wildlife