Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is a large and powerful feline animal, which one day spread throughout Africa and Asia and even parts of Europe. It is often confused with the leopard.

Scientifically they are not considered part of the "big cats" as they do not have the ability to roar. However, it is one of the great predators in Africa and is the fastest land mammal in the world, capable of reaching maximum speeds of 114 km / h. Normally speeds are around 80 - 100 km / h.

Cheetah head-on
Cheetah head-on

Species

There are five subspecies of cheetahs that vary very little in coloration and are most easily distinguished by their geographic location.

For example, those found in more arid desert regions tend to be lighter and the spots are smaller.

Features

The cheetah has an elongated and thin body that measures about 1,2 meters in length, with a tail that varies between 65 - 85 cm. The height to the shoulder is about 75cm. The weight varies between 34 - 54 kg, the females being slightly smaller.

The head is small with high eyes to help you scan the grasslands for potential prey. Around the eyes they have black tear-shaped marks that are believed to help protect them from being blinded by sunlight.

The coat is pale yellow, a white belly and the whole body dotted with small black spots. Unlike the rest of the body, the tail has ring markings ending in a black tip.

Although they cannot roar, they emit several different sounds such as high-pitched howls that can be heard from a mile away.

Speed

Speed ​​is achieved thanks to various adaptations it has developed both internally and externally.

Internally all his organs are adapted for speed. The liver, adrenal glands, lungs, bronchi, nasal passages, and heart are larger than in other mammals, primed to allow intense physiological activity.

Externally we can observe an elongated spine endowed with flexibility, which increases the length of the stride at high speeds. It is also helped by its strong rear legs devoid of retractable claws that provide a better grip on the ground. On the legs there are special pads to reduce the impact received by the strides made. The long tail keeps them balanced.

During a run, they take about 1/2 strides per second and 60-150 breaths per minute. However, they are limited to between 200 - 300 meters. This is due to increased physiological activity that creates heat faster than it can be released through evaporative cooling (sweating through the paws and panting).

Cheetah on the run
Cheetah on the run

Behavior

The cheetah is the only one of the African cats that is active during the day. This avoids competing for food against lions or hyenas that hunt at night. It is capable of achieving this, thanks to the fact that it is a very stealthy and shy animal.

They are one of the most sociable felines. Males roam in small groups, made up of their brothers. Interestingly, the females are the loneliest with the exception of 18 months who spend care of their young.

They are very territorial animals; it is easy to see them patrolling their vast territory. Sometimes they overlap with other cheetah territories and sometimes with that of lions. Females tend to patrol much larger territories than males.

Cheetah in profile
Cheetah in profile

Habitat

The cheetah is most common in open grasslands, but can also survive in deserts, dense vegetation, and mountainous terrain, as long as plenty of food and water.

Distribution

The cheetah is currently found in only a few remote regions of Africa, far from what was once its vast range. Most populations are in sub-Saharan Africa, although there are some populations in eastern and southern Africa.

Currently, the largest populations are in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, in southern Africa, and in Kenya and Tanzania, in eastern Africa. Smaller and more isolated populations exist in other countries, such as South Africa, Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia, Somalia, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, and the Central African Republic.

The cheetah was common throughout North America, Europe, and Asia until the end of the last ice age, about 11.700 years ago, which coincides with the disappearance of large numbers of mammals throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

Food

The cheetah is a carnivorous animal. Big game herbivores like gazelles, ñu, zebras and smaller mammals like hares. Although this diet can vary depending on where you are.

To hunt, take advantage of its exceptional sight to hunt. First it stalks its prey (between 10 - 30 meters away). Then he chases you at the right time.

The prey are killed in large open spaces, so they must drag them to a hiding place to prevent them from being stolen by other animals. They do this because they must recover after intense persecution before feasting.

Cheetah feeding
Cheetah feeding

Predators

The cheetah is a dominant predator, so it is often viewed as prey by other animals. However, the young are not so lucky, as they are often preyed upon by lions and hyenas, and birds such as eagles and vultures.

The human has also become a predator, hunting him for trophy, meat and furs.

Reproduction

The cheetah has a gestation period of about 3 months. Then he will give birth between 2 - 5 young that are born blind and very vulnerable. At birth they will weigh between 250 - 350 grams. The coat is dark and includes a thick, yellowish-gray mane along the back, a characteristic that offers better camouflage and better protection against high and low temperatures.

The young are suckled by the mother for the first few months until they are able to eat meat. When they succeed, they will begin to travel with their mother to learn to hunt. Although most hunting techniques are learned as they play with their brothers.

Between 18 - 24 months they are able to hunt by themselves and will leave home to establish their own territory. Unfortunately, 75% of the offspring do not live for more than 3 months, since their mothers abandon them to go looking for food and it is here that numerous predators take the opportunity to hunt them.

State of conservation

The cheetah is classified as a species vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN. The reduction in populations is due to hunting, the loss of habitat, the increase in natural parks that are home to a high number of competing predators.

An estimated 9.000 - 12.000 individuals remain in the wild. There are more and more individuals in zoos around the world.

Relationship with humans

The cheetah has been domesticated by humans by local populations for thousands of years. Climb up to help them hunt.

Attempts have also been made to breed them in captivity, but they do not usually produce healthy individuals, so they had to be mixed with wild cheetahs to restore the bloodline.

It is also common for them to be hunted as a trophy. This has caused populations to decline.

Popular culture

The name of the cheetah comes from the Hindu word "chita", which means "spotted."

It has been related to humans, at least, since 3.000 BC, when the Sumerians represented them tied with a hood on their head over a hex seal. During the same period, In Egypt he was revered as a symbol of royalty in the form of the cat goddess Mafdet.

They were also kept as pets by famous people such as: Genghis Khan, Charlemagne and Akbar the Great of India (who had more than 9.000 in his stable). They were also used for sports, where they were trained and domesticated. Obviously these cheetahs were captured in the wild, since it is very difficult to achieve it in captivity.

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