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.