Cheetah

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Cheetah
Temporal range: late Pliocene to Recent
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Acinonyx
Binomial name
Acinonyx jubatus
The range of the cheetah
Cheetah in action
A group of cheetahs in South Africa
The face of a cheetah

A cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is a large cat which lives in Africa. It is the fastest land animal and can run up to 110 kilometres per hour for a short time. Most cheetahs live in the savannas of Africa. There are a few in Asia.

Characteristics[change | change source]

The cheetah compared to other big cats is light and slimly built. Its long thin legs and long spotted tail are necessary for fast running.[2] Its lightly built, thin form is in sharp contrast with the robust build of the other big cats. The head-and-body length ranges from 112–150 centimetres (44–59 in).[2] The cheetah stands 70 to 90 cm at the shoulder, and weighs 21–72 kilograms (46–159 lb).[2][3]

The slightly curved claws are only weakly retractable (semi-retractable).[2] This is a major point of difference between the cheetah and the other big cats, which have fully retractable claws.

Hunting[change | change source]

Cheetahs are active during the day, and hunt in the early morning or late evening. Their main prey are small to medium sized antelopes. Duiker, Grant's gazelle, impala, reedbuck, springbok and Thomson's gazelle are some of the common targets of the cheetah. Male cheetahs, which are larger and heavier than females, can go after larger prey.

When the cheetah hunts, it slowly and secretly moves toward its prey. When it is close to the prey (about 10–30 meters), it runs after it very quickly. Cheetahs kill their prey by tripping it during the chase. To kill medium- to large-sized prey, the cheetah bites the prey's throat to suffocate it to death. A bite on the back of the neck or the snout is enough to kill smaller prey.[4]

The cheetah cannot defend itself against lions or hyenas who would take the cheetah's prey away. The prey is taken to a shaded place. The cheetah, exhausted after the chase, rests beside the kill and pants heavily for some time. Once they recover, cheetahs eat fast, and consume large quantities as soon as they can.

Reproduction[change | change source]

Pregnant females give birth to about 3 to 5 cubs after three months pregnancy. It takes two years of full-time supervision by the mother before the cubs are ready to live independent lives. They need to learn how to catch prey, and that takes time. The young are vulnerable to larger predators: lions especially try to kill cheetahs.

Genetics[change | change source]

The cheetah has unusually low genetic variability and a very low sperm count. Their sperms also suffer from deformed flagellae, and so their movement is damaged.[5] Apparently, cheetahs went through a great reduction in numbers during the last ice age. Inbreeding after the event further reduced the variation (Evolution#Genetic drift).

References[change | change source]

  1. Cat Specialist Group (2002). Acinonyx jubatus. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 2006-05-11. Database entry includes justification for why this species is vulnerable.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Estes, R.D. 2004.. The behavior guide to African mammals: including hoofed mammals, carnivores, primates (4th ed.). Berkeley, USA: University of California Press. pp. 377–83. ISBN 978-0-520-08085-0.
  3. Nowak R.M. 1999.. Walker's mammals of the world (6th ed.). Baltimore, USA: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 834–6. ISBN 978-0-8018-5789-8.
  4. Sunquist F. & M. 2002. Wild cats of the world. The University of Chicago Press, pp. 14–36. ISBN 978-0-226-77999-7
  5. O'Brien S. Wildt D. & Bush M. 1986. The cheetah in genetic peril. Scientific American 254: 68–76. Skin grafts between non-related cheetahs illustrate this point: there is no rejection of the donor skin.