Capable of going from zero to 60 miles per hour in just three seconds, the cheetah is the fastest mammal on Earth. It’s this speed and agility that make cheetahs such effective hunters. When hunting down antelope, gazelle, impala, hares, and birds across the African savannah, they’ll successfully catch and kill their prey in 58% of attempts. Most cheetahs hunt alone, but male siblings sometimes stick together to form a group, called a coalition, to take down larger prey, including wildebeest and kudu.
Four subspecies of cheetah live in Africa, predominantly in the eastern and southern regions of the continent. A fifth subspecies, called the Asiatic cheetah, has a very small population in Iran.
Cheetahs are apex predators, which means they help to keep prey populations in check, supporting local ecosystems. Without cheetahs, herbivore numbers would rise and more vegetation would be eaten, resulting in greater soil erosion and less drinking water. This would have an effect on the ecosystem as a whole, affecting all animals and humans.
We need to protect cheetahs and their ecosystems by bringing these big cats back from the brink of extinction. So, what can we do? Let’s look at the challenges cheetahs face along with some incredible cheetah facts.
What is a cheetah’s scientific name?
The scientific name for the cheetah is Acinonyx jubatus.
There are five subspecies of cheetah: the Northwest African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki), the East African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus fearsoni), the South African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus), the Northeast African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus soemmerringi), and the Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus).
What is their conservation status?
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classes cheetahs as “vulnerable,” meaning they face a high risk of extinction in the wild. Habitat and prey reduction, illegal trade, human conflict, and low levels of genetic variation are all impacting their survival.
Where do cheetahs live?
Cheetahs tend to live in open grassland and savannah, but they can also be found in dry forests, open woodlands, rocky mountains, and the desert.
They are predominantly found in eastern and southern Africa, including Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. There is also a small population of Asiatic cheetahs living in Iran.
There are a number of threats facing cheetahs today, including habitat loss, prey loss, illegal trade, and human-animal conflict. The cheetah population’s lack of genetic diversity is linked to low birth rates and is another cause for concern.
Cheetahs once occupied a much larger territory than they do now. They could be found across the Arabian Peninsula and into central India, as well as in a much larger number of African countries, including Tunisia, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Today, due to human settlement and agricultural expansion, cheetah habitat is just 10% of what it used to be.
This is a huge problem, because cheetahs need around 3,800 square miles of connected territory in order to survive. With a reduced and fragmented habitat, they find it harder to hunt effectively. It also puts populations at increased risk of inbreeding.
Cheetahs like to eat small antelope, rabbits, game birds, and young warthogs and kudu, but their pool of prey is decreasing. This is partly because humans hunt these animals, too, and because these herbivores’ grazing spaces have been taken over by farmland, forcing them to relocate.
Illegal trade of cheetah parts is unfortunately thriving. They are hunted for their skins, skulls, and other body parts, which the CCF suspects are being sold at traditional medicine markets in South Africa.
Pet trade is also a concern. Research from the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) suggests that 300 cheetah cubs were poached from the Horn of Africa every year between 2010 and 2020 to be sold to illegal pet markets, where they are kept in captivity and used as attractions. They are also occasionally offered as compensation to farmers who have lost livestock to adult cheetahs.
Due to habitat loss and the expansion of agriculture, cheetahs are coming into closer contact with humans than ever before, as they’re forced to leave their traditional habitats in search of land and food. When entering these human settlements, they often prey on livestock, which leads farmers to hunt and kill cheetahs either in retaliation or to protect their livelihoods.
Low rate of reproductive success
Cheetah populations have relatively low genetic variability because of two bottleneck events. Around 100,000 years ago, cheetahs expanded their range into Asia, Europe, and Africa, rapidly dispersing across a very large area and fragmenting their population. This made the exchange of genes difficult. Then, about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, during the Ice Age, cheetahs in North America and Europe went extinct. As the number of surviving cheetahs also dwindled across Asia and Africa, cheetahs started inbreeding.
Today, this means that cheetahs have a very small gene pool, which makes them more susceptible to infectious diseases, poor sperm quality, and infertility.
How fast can a cheetah run? Are there any animals that eat cheetahs? How long do cheetahs live? Let’s take a look at some interesting and surprising facts about cheetahs.
How fast can a cheetah run?
Famous for being the fastest land mammals, cheetahs can go from zero to 60 miles an hour in just three seconds. It’s also thought that, for short bursts, they can run at speeds of nearly 70 miles per hour.
Cheetahs can reach such incredible speeds because they have long, slender limbs and a flexible spine, which helps them to achieve a long stride. Hard foot pads, semi-retractable claws, a long tail, and the distinct shape of their inner ears all help with stability, while large nasal cavities help them to breathe in lots of oxygen as they sprint across the savannah.
What do cheetahs eat?
Cheetahs are carnivores. They like to eat grazing mammals, like impala, gazelle, and springbok, as well as warthogs and smaller animals, like hares and birds.
Sometimes male cheetahs hunt together in a group, known as a coalition. These coalitions are usually formed of two or three brothers who were born in the same litter. When working together, male cheetahs can take on larger prey, such as wildebeests and kudu. The coalition is strategic and tends to go after a younger or less vigilant member of a herd.
The diet of Asiatic cheetahs is slightly different, as they occupy a different habitat. They tend to eat wild sheep, Persian ibex, and hares.
Cheetahs are successful hunters. They kill their prey in 58% of attempts, but they don’t always get to hang onto their meal. 10% of cheetah kills are stolen by lions and hyenas. Cheetahs are known to abandon their food as soon as they spot another predator.
Do cheetahs attack humans?
Cheetahs are relatively shy animals who avoid human contact. As a result, there has never been a recorded case of a cheetah attacking a human in the wild.
How long do cheetahs live?
Cheetahs can live for up to 14 years in the wild.
They spend about a year and a half living with their mother. Then, they’ll spend the next six months living alongside their siblings before leaving the group.
How much does a cheetah weigh?
Fully grown cheetahs weigh between 34 and 54 kilograms, and the males are slightly heavier than the females.
What does a cheetah look like?
Cheetahs are slender animals with long limbs. They have tawny coats covered with a pattern of round or oval-shaped spots—unique to every individual—which helps cheetahs recognize one another. They also have black stripes running from the inner corners of their eyes to the corners of their mouths and black rings around the end of their tails.
Sometimes, cheetahs are mistaken for leopards, but when you know what to look for, it’s easy to spot the difference. Leopard spots resemble the shape of a rose. They’re not as solid or as circular as cheetah spots. Cheetahs are also taller and more slender than leopards.
What eats cheetahs?
While cheetahs wouldn’t be their first choice of meal, lions, eagles, leopards, and hyenas have all been known to kill and eat cheetahs, with cheetah cubs most at risk.
Are cheetahs endangered?
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, cheetahs are in the “vulnerable” category and are at risk of extinction in the wild.
They face a number of threats, including losing their prey and habitat to human activity, human-animal conflict, and illegal animal trade. They also have low levels of genetic variability, which is affecting their disease resistance and reproductive success.
How many cheetahs are left in the world?
IFAW has established the Countering Cheetah Trafficking from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula (CCTHOA) project to urgently stop the illegal trade in live cheetah cubs taken from the wild in the Somali region and trafficked to the Arabian Peninsula for sale as exotic pets. We’re focusing on stopping cheetah trafficking at its source, preventing animals from being taken from the wild.
To do this, the CCTHOA project is responding to several critical focus areas, including building stronger relationships between national law enforcement agencies in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa to increase collaboration and coordination. Through working with several Wildlife Enforcement Networks (WENs), we are establishing common mechanisms to deal with seized live cheetahs, emphasising handling, care, evidentiary security, and repatriation. A centralised database we are developing to house all information on cheetah trafficking through Ethiopia will enable easy access to vital information across a vast network.
We deliver training workshops on wildlife laws to law enforcers and government officials living and working along known cheetah trade routes. We’re raising awareness of habitats and the critical role cheetahs play within theirs to benefit humans, other wildlife, and the environment.
How can you help?
Cheetahs play an important part in maintaining the ecological balance of their ecosystems, but they face many human-made threats and need our help. Your donations help fund our conservation programs and projects around the world.