There are quite some interesting cheetah facts that are worth looking at. Cheetahs are not only the fastest land mammal on the earth, they are also the only ‘big cats’ who can’t roar or retract their claws; yet they control it such that it does not affect their speed. They’re also the only ones that can purr like our little moggies! Cheetahs are beautiful animals with lovely skin and only if they are a bit smaller, they would probably be adopted as commonly as dogs and domestic cats. They are one of the most ferocious animals and once it sets its eyes on a target for a chase, it would only take a miracle to deliver the prey from its approaching claws. Here are some 20 interesting Cheetah facts:
Cheetah Facts – General
1. – The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, is found throughout Africa and some of the Middle East. It is the only living member of Acinonyx but has a few sub-species itself – the Asiatic cheetah (A. j. venaticus, found in Asia), the Northwest African cheetah (A. j. hecki), the Eastern African cheetah (A. j. raineyii), the Southern African cheetah (A. j. jubatus) and the Central African cheetah (A. j. soemmeringii). However, the king cheetah and the woolly cheetah, also thought to be sub-species, have recently been found to be different from the ‘basic’ cheetah only through a single recessive gene, so they are no longer treated as separate.
2. – The word ‘cheetah’ comes from the Sanskrit word, citrakāyah, apparently meaning ‘variegated’ which points to the spotted skin of the cheetah.
3. – As happens with inbreeding everywhere, this means that they also have a low sperm motility/count and there tends to be deformed flagella as well, all of which means cheetahs are not breeding as fast or as widely as they need to, if their current decline in numbers is ever going to be reversed. They are all so similar genetically that when totally unrelated animals are used as donor and recipient for skin grafts, there is never any threat of rejection. This lack of variation is thought to have been caused by a ‘genetic bottleneck’ during the last ice age, but doesn’t seem to have prevented them thriving for thousands of years, until recently.
4. – The cheetah is officially considered ‘vulnerable’ on the conservation listings; it has been hunted for its fur in previous years, but now habitat loss and reduction of prey are more of a problem, along with the difficulty in breeding it in captivity as well as its low ability to adapt to change in environment. Surprisingly, some success in captive breeding has been made by giving the cheetah a canine playmate/guard dog as a companion – apparently they feel less threatened then!
5. – There are thought to be only about 12,400 cheetahs left in the wild, with some sub-species more threatened than others – the Asiatic sub-species is ‘critical’ and the Indian sub-species is already extinct. Some suggestions have been made regarding re-introducing them in India through captive breeding and later release, but this will not recreate the Indian cheetah, it will merely put one of the other sub-species in India.
Cheetah Facts – Characteristics
6 – The cheetah is not only the fastest animal on the earth, with the ability to run at 70-75 mph (112-120 km/h) in very short bursts or around 58 mph (93 km/h) for longer runs of around 200 m, it also has the fastest acceleration – 0 to 60 mph (100 km/h) in just three seconds! That would leave most cars standing, including the sports models.
7. – Cheetahs hunt entirely by vision and therefore can only hunt by day – albeit early or late, when it’s cooler but still light. In fact, they have very poor night vision, unlike most big cats! They are also the only big cat that cannot climb trees, as their fixed claws don’t angle and grip in the same way as the other cats’ retractable claws.
8. – Up to 37 in (94 cm) tall at the shoulder, the golden coloured cheetah is covered in black spots everywhere except its white tummy and the end of its white-tufted tail where the spots merge into several black rings. An adult male weighs up to 160 lbs (72 kg) and is up to 59 in (150 cm) long, of which some 33 in (84 cm) will be the tail. Females are a little smaller, but not by much.
9. – In order to run as fast as it does, the cheetah has a deep chest, narrow waist, large nostrils, an enlarged, ultra-efficient heart and lungs and the ability to speed its breathing up from 60 breaths per minute to 150. The non-retracting (officially ‘semi-retractable’) claws help with traction and its long tail acts as a rudder, enabling it to make sharp turns to match its fleeing prey.
10. – Almost all cheetahs come in the standard colour scheme of golden-yellow with black spots, but there are a few variations. The so-called ‘king cheetah’ has larger spots which merge into blotches and long bars down its back, but this is so rare that until 1987, only 38 specimens had been found, many just as skins. Even rarer are the melanistic (black with ghost markings), albinistic (white with pale grey spots), speckled and gray-coloured variations, most of which have only been known by report rather than having been seen directly.
Cheetah Facts – Behaviour
11 – The mortality rate for cheetah cubs is very high – only about 10% make it to six months or so. However, if they make it to adulthood, cheetahs live to around 12 years old in the wild, and may live up to 20 years in captivity.
12 – Female cheetahs are solitary, having their first cubs at around age three years after 90-98 days (by pretty much any and all males that come by, apparently!). They give birth to up to nine cubs, although most litters are between three and five. The cubs are around 5.5oz-11oz (150 g-300 g) at birth, and they are born already spotted and with a mantle of longer fur on the back of their necks that looks almost like a mane. This falls out as the cub grows.
13 – The cubs stay with their mother until they are about eighteen months old, learning what they need to know, from hunting techniques to how to avoid other predators. When she considers they’re ready, the mother leaves them alone and they stay together until they are about two years old, when the females leave. The males form social groups with their siblings and will remain together, probably for life. Lone males with no siblings will often get together with other similar males and form their own ‘coalition’.
14. – Cheetahs have quite a wide range of different sounds, from chirping and growling to ‘churring’ or stuttering, yowling and purring.
15. – Like most cats, the cheetah is an ‘obligate carnivore’, meaning that it has to live on meat. In the cheetah’s case, this is mostly various species of gazelle, springbok and impala, the occasional hare or guinea fowl, some larger animals’ young, like zebra and wildebeest and, if the cheetahs are hunting in a group, they could prey on the adults of those species.
16. – Although the cheetah is so fast, it can only keep up those speeds for a very short time, so if a chase is not over in a minute or so the cheetah will have to give up, and for that reason it usually tries to get as close as possible by stalking before the prey realizes it’s there. In addition to this, the chase takes so much out of the cheetah that other predators will often steal its prey because it is too exhausted to defend it – totally unfair, but that’s life!
17. – Despite their size and speed, cheetahs gained that speed by sacrificing most of their power, and are therefore ‘outranked’ by almost every other large predator they come across – hence the need to learn avoidance techniques from mum. Also, because their ability to hunt relies on their speed, almost any injury can be life-threatening and they will therefore go to great lengths to avoid any risk of injury, including giving up their prey without a fight, if necessary.
Cheetah Facts – Cheetahs and Us
18. – Because they are so much less aggressive than other big cats, cheetahs can be tamed, and cubs would be taken from the wild and trained to hunt antelopes by royalty and aristocracy all over the world. The cheetah’s elegance means it has always been considered to be an asset visually as well as a means for obtaining food.
19 – There are a surprising number of uses of cheetahs in literature and film, ranging from the talking cheetah called Chester that advertises cheetos cereal, to Witterquick in ‘Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light’, who had a cheetah as his totem and could turn into one as well. There’s a Playstation game, ‘Hunting at 60 mph’, that features a gazelle being hunted by a cheetah; a Japanese animé cheetah called Chiiko and a ‘Transformer’, Cheetor, who has the cheetah as his beast form. Very popular, of course, are books telling the story of cheetah cubs rescued and raised by humans – for instance, ‘Born Free’ author Joy Adamson raised a cheetah as well as Elsa the lion, and told about it in ‘The Spotted Sphynx’. ‘How It Was With Dooms’ is also a true children’s book telling of orphaned cub Duma in Kenya, and there are at least two movies loosely based on this book. Cheetahs even turn up as superheroes, such as Wonder Woman’s main villain opponent, Dr Barbara Ann Minerva, known as The Cheetah.
20. – Like quite a few other pelts, cheetah fur used to be a sign of status for the rich and famous, but fortunately that idea has been replaced by the far better attitude that fur belongs on its original owner, not on a human’s back. No-one in the West now wears real fur without risking a very bad reaction from the general public!