Cheetahs’ spots may serve as camouflage for both hunting and hiding. Their spots may offset the shadows in the gray-hued grasses they often inhabit, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings. Camouflage is essential not only for stalking prey, but also for protecting cheetah cubs from predators. A cheetah cub’s smoky gray mantle may serve as added camouflage among dead grasses. Much like a human fingerprint, a cheetah’s spots and the ring pattern of its tail are unique, enabling researchers in the field to identify individuals.

The gestation (pregnancy) period for the cheetah is 93 days, and litters range in size from one or two up to six cubs (the occasional litter of eight cubs has been recorded, but it is rare). Cub mortality is higher in protected areas like national parks and wildlife reserves where proximity to large predators is greater than in non-protected areas. In such areas, the cheetah cub mortality can be as high as 90%.

Based on an usual color variation, an additional cheetah species was described in 1927 — A. rex, or the king cheetah. The species was based upon cheetahs that were found to have longer, softer hair and replacement of some spotted patterns with dark bars. However, it is now generally accepted that this was simply a very rare color variation of A. jubatus.

Physical Characteristics Of Adult Cheetahs

Adult cheetahs’ weight averages between 75 and 125 pounds. They can measure from 40 to 60 inches in length, measured from the head to the hind quarters. The tail can add a further 24 to 32 inches bringing the total overall length up to 7.5 feet. On average, cheetahs stand 28 to 36 inches tall at the shoulder.

The cheetah is a sexually dimorphic species though it is difficult to identify cheetahs’ sex by appearance alone. Male cheetahs are slightly bigger than females and they have larger heads, but they do not display the same degree of physical difference between the sexes of other big cat species like lions.

Cheetahs have a thin frame with a narrow waist and deep chest. They have large nostrils that allow for increased oxygen intake. Cheetahs have a large lungs and hearts connected to a circulatory system with strong arteries and adrenals that work in tandem to circulate oxygen through their blood very efficiently.

Cheetah Hunting

Cheetahs are visual hunters. Unlike other big cats cheetahs are diurnal, meaning they hunt in early morning and late afternoon. Cheetahs climb ‘playtrees’ or termite mounds to get an optimal vantage point for spotting prey against the horizon. The hunt has several components. It includes prey detection, stalking, the chase, tripping (or prey capture), and killing by means of a suffocation bite to the throat.

Diet and Eating

The prey species on which the cheetah depends have evolved speed and avoidance techniques that can keep them just out of reach. Cheetahs prey includes: gazelles (especially Thomson’s gazelles), impalas and other small to medium-sized antelopes, hares, birds, and rodents. Cheetahs will also prey on the calves of larger herd animals.

Cheetahs generally prefer to prey upon wild species and avoid hunting domestic livestock. The exception happening in sick, injured and either old or young and inexperienced cheetahs. Generally, the livestock animals that are lost to predation by cheetahs are also sick, injured and old/young. Keeping livestock in kraals and utilizing non-lethal means of protection can dramatically reduce livestock predation.

Activity Of A Full Grown Cheetah Hunting

While cheetahs can reach remarkable speeds, they cannot sustain a high speed chase for very long. They must catch their prey in 30 seconds or less as they cannot maintain maximum speeds for much longer. Cheetahs spend most of their time sleeping and they are minimally active during the hottest portions of the day. They prefer shady spots and will sleep under the protection of large shady trees. Cheetahs do not hunt at night, they are most active during the morning and evening hours.

Role in the Ecosystem

The cheetah serves a special role in its ecosystem. Cheetahs are one of the most successful hunters on the savanna but their kills are very often stolen by larger carnivores or predators that hunt in groups. Predators play an important role in any ecosystem. They keep prey species healthy by killing the weak and old individuals. They also act as a population check which helps plants-life by preventing overgrazing. Without predators like the cheetah, the savanna ecosystem in Namibia would be very different and the current ecological trend toward desertification would be accelerated.

Vocalizations

Unlike other “big cats”, a classification that includes: lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars) cheetahs don’t roar. They growl when facing danger, and they vocalize with sounds more equivalent to a high-pitched chirp or bubble and they bark when communicating with each other. The cheetah can also purr while both inhaling and exhaling.

Size

An adult cheetah weighs 75 to 140 pounds (34 to 64 kilograms), is about 30 inches (77 centimeters) tall at the shoulder and 44 to 56 inches (112 to 142 centimeters) long with another 26 to 33 inches (66 to 84 centimeters) in tail length. Males are slightly larger than females. Cheetahs are sometimes confused with leopards—a much heavier animal with rosette-shaped spots and no tear marks.

Native Habitat

Cheetahs inhabit a broad section of Africa including areas of North Africa, the Sahel, eastern and southern Africa. Over the past 50 years, cheetahs have become extinct in at least 13 countries, and they are most prevalent in Kenya and Tanzania in east Africa, and Namibia and Botswana in southern Africa. The Asiatic cheetah is known to survive in Iran, but is critically endangered. Cheetahs thrive in areas with vast expanses of land where prey is abundant. In Namibia, cheetahs live in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, savannahs, dense vegetation and mountainous terrain. As human development expands in to their preferred habitat, cheetahs can now commonly be found on commercial farms.

Communication

Cheetahs do not roar, but they make sounds including purrs, barks, growls, hisses and chirps that are unlike those of any other cat. The most common vocalization is the chirp. Another common vocalization is what has been termed the “eeaow.” It is a lot like the meow of a cat, but does not have the initial low frequency. Another common vocalization is the stutter, which appears to be a direct solicitation. Males stutter when it appears that there is a high level of excitement and/or arousal toward a female.

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