Cheetahs are big cats that are indigenous to Africa and central Iran. It is the fastest land animal, capable of speeds of up to 80 mph, with the fastest solidly reported speeds being 58 and 61mph, and as such, it has many adaptations for speed, including a light body, long slender legs, and a long tail.
Adults typically weigh between 21 and 72 kg. Its head is tiny and rounded, with a short snout and facial stripes that resemble tears. Typically tawny to creamy white or light buff in color, the coat is mainly covered in equally spaced solid black dots. There are four recognized subspecies.
Cheetahs are mostly active during the day, whereas other carnivores such as leopards and lions are primarily active at night; these bigger carnivores are capable of killing cheetahs and stealing their prey; therefore, cheetahs’ diurnal behavior helps them escape larger predators in places where they coexist, such as the Okavango Delta.
Night-time activity tends to rise in places where the cheetah is the dominant predator (such as farmlands in Botswana and Namibia). This is also possible in very dry areas such as the Sahara, where daily temperatures may exceed 43 °C.
The lunar cycle may also have an effect on the cheetah’s regular activity since prey can be seen more readily on moonlight evenings, but this comes with the risk of meeting bigger predators. Throughout the day, hunting is the primary activity, with peaks at dawn and dusk.
After the night, groups congregate in grassy clearings. Cheetahs often examine their surroundings from observation spots such as heights to search for prey or bigger predators; they even take turns maintaining a watch while sleeping.
Unlike many other felids, female cheetahs inhabit greater regions than males. Females generally spread across vast regions in search of food, although they may concentrate in smaller areas if the prey is plentiful. As a result, their home range size is determined by prey distribution. Research in the Kalahari Desert found that cheetahs can travel between 2.5 and 3.8 km/h to find food.
Males are usually less migratory than females; often, males create territory as part of coalitions. Whether males establish territories or scatter over wide regions, establishing home ranges, is largely determined by female movements.
Territoriality is preferable only when females are more sedentary, which is more likely in regions with abundant prey. When a female enters a territory, men surround her; if she attempts to flee, males bite or snap at her. Generally, the female is unable to flee on her own; men abandon her once they lose interest in her. They may sniff the area where she sat or slept to establish whether she was in oestrus.
Cheetahs can slow down significantly near the climax of the hunt, dropping from 58 mph to 14 mph, and can readily follow the prey’s twists and turns as it attempts to escape. To suffocate medium- to large-sized prey, the cheetah bites the neck and holds it for about five minutes, during which the victim ceases to struggle. A single bite to the nape of the neck or snout is sufficient to dispatch smaller prey. Cheetahs have an average success rate of 25–40% while hunting larger, more delicate prey.
The prey is taken to a bush or beneath a tree after the attack; the cheetah, exhausted from the chase, rests by the kill for five to 55 minutes, panting heavily. Cheetahs, especially mothers with infants, stay vigilant while feeding, pausing to survey the area for fresh prey or predators that may steal the food. Cheetahs may lose between 10% and 15% of their kills to bigger predators like hyenas and lions.
The cheetah is endangered by a number of causes, including habitat degradation and population fragmentation. Habitat loss is mostly the result of the introduction of commercial land uses such as agriculture and industry; it is exacerbated further by ecological degradation, such as bush encroachment, which is prevalent in southern Africa.
Other significant concerns include prey scarcity and competition with other species such as humans and big predators. With 76 percent of its territory being unprotected, farmers and pastoralists often attack the cheetah in an effort to preserve their cattle, particularly in Namibia. In certain areas, illegal wildlife trading and trafficking are also a concern. Certain tribes, such as the Maasai in Tanzania, have been known to perform rituals using cheetah skins.
Another danger is roadkill, which is particularly prevalent in places where highways have been built next to the natural habitats or protected areas. Cheetahs are more susceptible to illness due to their lower genetic diversity; nevertheless, the danger presented by infectious diseases may be minimal due to low population sizes and therefore a reduced likelihood of infection.