Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


The name cheetah comes from a Hindi word meaning "spotted one".  They are indeed very distinctive with their beautiful markings, unique to each individual.  An adult has yellow or tan fur with up to 3000 solid black round or oval spots which cover nearly their entire body except their throat and abdomen. The tail ends with 4-6 black rings and a bushy, white tuft.  They have a 'tear mark' - a black line down the face from the corner of the eye.  This is thought to help keep the sun out of a cheetah’s eyes. Cheetahs are sometimes mistaken for leopards but leopards are much heavier and stockier with rosette shaped spots and no tear marks.

(C) Michael Vickers

Cheetahs hunt in the day time in order to avoid lions and leopards. Their coat acts as camouflage, and their brilliant eyesight allows them to spot prey from 3 miles away. They are the fastest mammal on earth, and can accelerate faster than many sports cars.  They are designed for very short intense bursts of speed and can only run at maximum speed for a few hundred metres. 

The cheetah’s long legs and flexible spine allow it to cover 20 metres in one stride. Its non-retractable claws provide it with grip, and its long tail helps it to steer, like a rudder on a boat. Its deep chest contains a very large heart and lungs, and it has large nostrils in order to take in as much oxygen as possible. At full speed, a cheetah needs to breathe 150 times per minute.

As a female cheetah raises her young without the male’s help, she must leave her cubs alone in order to hunt. The pale tufty manes sported by cubs help to camouflage them in the grass.  Cubs will be moved every few days to prevent a build-up of smell, making it harder for lions, hyenas and other predators to find them.

A cheetah eats an average of 3kg of meat per day and gets moisture from its food so that it will only need to drink once every few days.  They are different from other big cats as they can purr but cannot roar.
The cheetah has suffered dramatic declines. Hunted for their coats and because they sometimes attack livestock, they have disappeared from many areas. More recently, man has caused widespread loss of cheetah habitat, leading to the separation of individual populations.  This means that as well as having fewer and smaller habitats in which to survive, they are under threat from inbreeding, which can cause genetic defects, increased risk of disease and reduced ability to adapt to environmental changes.  In many areas, the cheetah's prey has been overhunted by people. Direct conflict between cheetahs and humans is also an issue, with ranchers allowed to legally shoot cheetahs that prey on livestock in some areas.

Males: Cheetah
Females: She-cheetah
Max speed: 70mph – the fastest land animal
Body Length: 1.1-1.4m
Body Height: 50-80cm at the shoulder
Tail length: 65-80 cm
Weight: 40-60 kg
Life Expectancy: 10-12 years
Diet: Small antelope, warthogs, birds, hares
REGION: Sub Saharan Africa and Iran
HABITAT: Grassland, savannah plains, dry bush, scrub, open forests
Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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