Cat of the Month ~ April 2009
Unlike most African predators, cheetahs hunt during the daytime. When they spot prey, they can accelerate faster than most cars: from 0 to 60 miles (96 kilometers) an hour in only three seconds.
The Cheetah, is one of the fastest land animals in the world. A cheetah can accelerate to a running speed of more than 97 km/h (60 mph) in just two to three seconds, sustaining that speed for up to 300 m (1,000 ft). Until about 100 years ago cheetahs were found in open habitats throughout Africa, the Middle East, and southwest Asia as far as central India. Excessive hunting and habitat destruction have reduced the cheetah’s range to isolated parts of Africa south of the Sahara, where around 10,000 cheetahs now live. Fewer than 100 cheetahs remain in remote areas of Iran.
Scientists classify the cheetah in its own genus because of its physical distinctiveness from other cats, although genetic studies suggest that the cheetah may share a common ancestor with the North American puma. Fossil evidence shows that cheetahs may have originated in North America as early as 3 million years ago and then spread into Eurasia and Africa.
Cheetahs are well adapted to dry habitats such as savanna grasslands and semideserts. They can survive for long periods without water, gathering much of the water they need from the body fluids of their prey. Cheetahs prefer open habitats that offer unobstructed views of their surroundings; such habitats make it easier to detect prey as well as predators. When stalking prey, however, cheetahs use the camouflage protection of bush, scrub, and other vegetation.
Although their populations were greatly reduced during the 20th century, as the 21st century began cheetahs still inhabited a broad section of Africa, including areas of the Sahel, East Africa, and southern Africa. Namibia has the largest population of cheetahs, with about 2,500 individuals. Smaller populations exist in Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania.
The cheetah is a Carnivorous mammal and its scientific name is 'Acinonyx jubatus'. Though there are around 36 different species of cheetah known, we can generalise some facts about this fascinating cat.
It is 1 to 2 metres in length with a tail around 80 centimeters long. The cheetah can reach weights of up to 72 kilograms in the wilds of Africa and Iran. It has adapted to the habitats of savanna or open grassland, but also will live well in dense woodlands. Cheetahs have been observed living for up to 17 years in the wild.
The name 'cheetah' derives from the Hindi word 'Chita',which means ‘the spotted one’. Every cheetahs spotted coat pattern is unique, so these cats are relatively easy to distinguish (for those who study them). The fur colour, of course, helps them blend into their environment, making them difficult to locate (or avoid, if they are near by) in the wild. Fur around the corner of the eyes forms long tear drop shaped black lines down either side of the head to the mouth. It is thought that this helps to eliminate glare during daytime hunting
Powerful back legs and large muscles gives the Cheetah amazing running power. A long tail is used for balance and to help the animal steer when making turns at high speed. Interestingly, the tail also helps cubs to follow their mother through high grass. The cheetahs flexible spine allows legs to reach far in long strides which further aids acceleration. In fact, the Cheetah is the world’s fastest land mammal. With an acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in only three seconds. Which means it travels at an unbelievable 96 mph!
Cheetahs are carnivorous so they will of course hunt and kill other mammals to eat. Animals they prey upon include gazelles, impalas, antelope and birds. In the wild, Cheetahs may only need to drink once every three to four days because they get fluid from their food. Mothers will help younger cubs to hunt their prey, by catching a victim safely by the head, instead of the usual lethal grip on the throat. She releases the victim in close proximity of the cubs, encouraging them to chase after it and attack. Usually the mother will then need to chase and disorient the victim herself giving the young a chance to strike (and learn the 'ropes'. Cheetahs hunt for food in the open and attack quickly, instead of stalking their prey (as do lions and tigers). As they are active during the day
(diurnal) when other predators are resting in the sun they have a great advantage in having a wider range of prey to catch.
Male cheetahs will form ‘tribes’ together with other males, sometimes even with their own brothers from the same litter. In groups such as this they migrate together across large areas of grassland. Cheetahs don’t not roar like other big cats, they instead purr and 'chirp' (it is said) to communicate to others cats in the vicinity.
Although it is common for a leopard to be mistaken for a cheetah due to their spots, they can actually be easily distinguished. The leopard has a heavier, stockier body and has a larger head in proportion to its body, and has rosettes rather than dots.
Leopards also lack the black "tear-streak" markings that run from the inner corners of the cheetah's eyes to the corners of its mouth. Additionally, cheetahs run much faster than leopards do and generally do not climb trees, whereas leopards are excellent climbers. Also, leopards are more active at night searching for their prey (nocturnal), whereas cheetahs (have we have established) are active during the daytime and restful during the night.
...to be continued