The fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah is a marvel of evolution. The cheetah’s slender, long-legged body is built for speed. Cheetahs are tan in color with black spots all over their bodies. They can also be distinguished from other big cats by their smaller size, spotted coats, small heads and ears and distinctive “tear stripes” that stretch from the corner of the eye to the side of the nose.
Height: 2 ½ -3 feet (.8-.9m) at the shoulder.
Weight: 110-140 lbs (50-64kg).
Top Speed: 70mph (113 km/hr).
Lifespan: 10-12 years.
Cheetahs eat mainly gazelles, wildebeest calves, impalas and smaller hoofed animals.
In 1900, there were over 100,000 cheetahs across their historic range. Today, an estimated 9,000 to 12,000 cheetahs remain in the wild in Africa. In Iran, there are around 200 cheetahs living in small isolated populations.
Historically cheetahs were found throughout Africa and Asia from South Africa to India. They are now confined to parts of eastern, central and southwestern Africa and a small portion of Iran.
Found mostly in open and partially open savannah, cheetahs rely on tall grasses for camouflage when hunting. They are diurnal (more active in the day) animals and hunt mostly during the late morning or early evening. Only half of the chases, which last from 20-60 seconds, are successful.
Cheetahs knock their prey to the ground and kill with a suffocating bite to the neck. They must eat quickly before they lose the kills to other bigger or more aggressive carnivores.
Cheetahs are also typically solitary animals. While males sometimes live with a small group of brothers from the same litter, females generally raise cubs by themselves for about a year.
Mating Season: Throughout the year.
Gestation: Around 3 months.
Litter size: 2-4 cubs
Cubs are smoky in color with long, woolly hair – called a mantle – running down their backs. This mantle is thought to camouflage cubs in grass, concealing them from predators. Mothers move cubs to new hiding places every few days. At 5-6 weeks, cubs follow the mother and begin eating from their kills.
The cheetah’s future is uncertain due to a variety of threats. The biggest is habitat loss due to human encroachment. In addition, they often deal with declines in prey and conflicts with humans. There is also high cub mortality due to predation by carnivores like lions and hyenas that are in competition with the cheetah, as well as genetic inbreeding which leads to abnormalities.
The cheetah’s future may look dim, but conservationists have been working to lessen the decline in some areas. Similar to Defenders of Wildlife’s work with farmers in the Northern Rockies, in the early 1990’s conservationists began educating livestock farmers around Namibia about how to reduce cheetah/livestock interactions and teaching farmers how to avoid conflict through breeding schedules and the use of guard dogs to protect livestock as alternatives to resorting to the rifle.
These efforts, along with stronger enforcement of endangered species and anti-poaching laws and habitat restoration for the cheetah, have resulted in stabilized populations in that country.
- Endangered Species Act (ESA): Cheetahs are listed as endangered under the ESA.
- IUCN Red List: Vulnerable. A cheetah population decline of at least 30% is suspected over the past 18 years (3 generations).
- CITES: Cheetahs are listed in Appendix I.