Cheetahs are large carnivores that live primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Their range was once wider: across dry parts of Africa, to the Middle East and beyond to India. They live and hunt in open and vegetated savannas. World population today: approximately 8,000 to 10,000.
The cheetah is the fastest land mammal. It can run up to 70 mph for short distances. In the 1500s, royalty hunted gazelles with trained cheetahs.
Cheetah facts and behavior
- The cheetah has a small head, high-set eyes and small, flat ears. Though its body is spotted, its face is not. Its legs are long in relation to its body, allowing it to run at high speeds.
- Cheetahs primarily eat hoofed mammals: gazelle, kudu, springbok, gray duiker and impala. They also eat smaller game such as hare, warthog and birds.
- To avoid lions and leopards, cheetahs usually hunt in the middle of the day. They stalk their prey, approaching to within 50 feet before dashing out from cover and sprinting toward it. Cheetahs bite down on their victim's throat and suffocate it within a few minutes. They may drag the carcass to cover, but kills are often stolen by larger predators.
- Females live alone, except when they're raising cubs or ready to mate. Males live in small, permanent groups called coalitions that usually consist of two to four brothers.
From birth to death
- Cheetahs breed throughout the year.
- Gestation: 91 to 95 days
- Litter size: one to eight cubs, but usually three
- Cubs weigh 8 to 11 ounces at birth.
- Cheetahs reach sexual maturity at about 21 months.
- In the wild, cheetahs may reach 8 to 10 years; in zoos, 17 years.
- Males tend to be slightly larger and weigh about 10 pounds more than females.
- 75 to 145 pounds
- 2 to 3 feet tall at the shoulder
- 3.5 to 4.5 feet long with a 30 inch tail
- Listed as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Species.
- Considered endangered and is protected by Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. CITES is an international treaty controlling the trade of threatened and endangered plants and animals.
Cheetahs, the Oregon Zoo and you
The Oregon Zoo's cheetahs live in the Predators of the Serengeti exhibit. Their diet includes 100-percent muscle, no bi-product horse meat that is both lean and formulated with the necessary supplements to provide balanced nutrition to the carnivores. Food is often placed inside of an object so the cheetah has to manipulate it to get it out.
Cheetah numbers have declined due to:
- Hunting as trophy animals, for their spotted pelts
- Hunting to prevent them from preying on livestock
- Human population growth that has replaced cheetah habitat with human homes and overhunted prey animals
Many cheetahs suffer a genetic defect due to inbreeding, perhaps from a population bottleneck – a sharp decline – as far back as 10,000 years ago. This may raise cub mortality, lower cheetahs' resistance to disease, and cause infertility.
You can help the cheetah and other threatened or endangered species by joining the volunteer team at the Oregon Zoo and getting involved with other conservation groups. Organizations that focus on conservation in Africa include the Cheetah Conservation Fund, the African Wildlife Foundation, Tusk Trust, Conserve Africa International, the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Awareness Foundation and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
Another way to help is to never buy products made from wild animal parts.
Did you know?
Unlike most cats, cheetahs claws are not retractable. They act like cleats, giving the cheetah traction while running.