28 interesting Facts About Cheetahs. The cheetah's spots, habitat, speed and more

The cheetah is one of the most recognizable cats and is well known as the fastest land animal. The black tear-like facial streaks on the cheetah's small head are a signature feature that completes the look.

cheetah in kruger np

The body of a cheetah is highly adapted for speed and is very different from the strong build of the other big cats like lions and leopards.

Quick Facts

Here is a quick summary of cheetahs. The details and fascinating facts will follow after.

1 Common Name Cheetah
2 Scientific Name Acinonyx jubatus
3 Habitat Range Africa & Central Iran
4 Height 2.1 - 3 feet
5 Weight 21 - 72 kg
6 Running Speed 80 -130 km/h
7 Main Diet Fresh Meat

1. Name Origins

Cheetah is a descriptive word that is derived from the Hindi word "Chita" - which translates to "spotted one".

There are other origins for the scientific name, in reference to the non-retractable claws but "spotted one" takes the number one spot.

2. Close relatives

The closest animal relatives to the cheetah are the cougar and the jaguarundi. While it isn't wrong to call a cheetah one of the big cats, the species diverged more than 6 million years ago and the differences are significant from the other cats.

Other relatives of the cheetah include lions, leopards, tigers, jaguars, snow leopards, and other big cats.

3. Where do cheetahs live

cheetah resting on a rock

Cheetahs mostly live in easter and southern Africa. In Asia, Cheetahs are limited to central Iran in very small numbers. The largest population of cheetahs is sparsely spread out over Angola, Botswana, Namibia, SouthAfrica, and Zambia.

While not strictly selective, cheetahs live in places with greater availability of prey, good visibility, and smaller chances of encountering larger predators. This makes the savannah and semi-arid areas such as Serengeti and Kalahari ideal homes for cheetahs

4. Which countries still have cheetahs in the wild?

The home range of cheetahs used to cover most parts of Africa's savannah and semi-arid areas. Cheetahs are now only found in fewer areas.

Here are the countries that have cheetahs.

  • Algeria
  • Ethiopia
  • Niger
  • Angola
  • Iran
  • South Africa
  • Benin
  • Kenya
  • South Sudan
  • Botswana
  • Mali
  • Tanzania 
  • Burkina Faso 
  • Mozambique 
  • Uganda
  • Central African Republic
  • Namibia
  • Zambia
  • Chad
  • Eswatini (re-introduced)
  • Zimbabwe

5. What do cheetahs eat?

Cheetahs are carnivores and eat the meat of the animals they hunt. They mostly hunt small to medium-sized animals weighing under 40 kg.

The common animals hunted and eaten by cheetah include Dama and Dorcas gazelles, impala, springbok, Thomson's gazelle, common duiker among others.

Which national parks can I visit for cheetahs

6. How big is a Cheetah?

A cheetah is physically almost as big as a leopard. Unlike the leopard, the cheetah is built lightly and has a smaller head. 

Cheetahs have a long, slender body measuring 14 feet, with a long tail (2 to3 feet) that generally ends in a white tuft. Cheetahs are about 2.5 feet tall at the shoulder.

7. How much does a cheetah weigh?

cheetah in kruger np

Cheetahs have a big variation in their weight and adults can weigh between 21 and 72 kilograms. Cheetah cubs are born weighing between 150 and 300 grams.

The weight of a cheetah is determined by many factors such as sex, age, location, health, and subspecies. While cheetahs can't easily be separated between genders, male cheetahs tend to be slightly bigger and weigh more.

8. How fast is a cheetah?

The cheetah is the fastest land animal and can typically reach speeds of up to 100 km per hour. A  cheetah can go from 0 (zero) to 60 Miles per hour in just 3 seconds. Most supercars can't accelerate that fast.

And for something no supercar can do, a cheetah can decelerate dramatically and slow down from 93 km/h to 23 km/h in just 3 strides.

9. How Far can a Cheetahs see

Cheetahs have perfect vision and can easily see detail at a distance of 5 kilometres. That is better than most binoculars. 

While cheetahs don't see as well at night, as the other big cats, they do have excellent vision for distant objects and may even see more colours, unlike other big cats.

10. Why the Long Tail?

Cheetah's tails do look big and cumbersome given the cheetah's size but the tail is another adaptation for speed. Like the rudder of a boat, the tail helps the cheetah steer and change direction at very high speed.

11. What about the 'King Cheetah'

The king cheetah is a variety of cheetah with a mutation for cream-coloured fur, that is marked by large botchy spots and three dark wide stripes at the back. The King cheetah has thick furth and spots that merge to form the 3 stripes.

If two mating cheetahs carry the mutated gene (Taqpep) some of their cubs can be expected to become king cheetahs.

12. How many spots do cheetahs have?

Cheetahs have between 2,000 and 3,000 black spots covering their golden-tan fur. Like their size, the number of spots is determined by many factors such as local habitat, age, gender among others.

13. Do cheetahs have unique spots?

The spots of every cheetah are unique and can be used to identify one from the next. Just like the stripes of the zebra or the fingerprints on humans, no two individuals have the same pattern.

While this is extremely hard for most people if you got enough pictures of cheetahs, you can notice the difference. Researchers have tools to help them do this much faster.

14. Are cheetahs smart?

While they wouldn't compare to animals such as chimps or elephants, cheetahs are smart animals. They hunt by predicting the moves of their prey and being careful to pounce when they are close enough to catch the animal.

They also avoid confrontation with the bigger predators and animals, something that would likely not end up in the cheetah's favour.

15. When do Cheetahs hunt?

Cheetahs typically hunt during the day and tend to avoid the larger predators such as the primary nocturnal lion. During the hot period, cheetahs will adjust their hunting time to after sunset in order to escape the high temperature of the daytime.

16. What do Cheetahs hunt?

hunting cheetah

A cheetah hunts small to medium-sized prey weighing between 20 and 60 kg. Most of the hunts are animals under 40 kg.

Cheetahs will commonly hunt medium ungulates such as gazelles, impalas, duikers, wild goats, and more. Occasionally a group of cheetahs will prey on larger animals such as wildebeest

17. How long do hunts last?

Because of the cheetah's good vision, it can spot its prey at long distances and start stalking it for a long distance. The cheetah will stalk its prey and try to get as close as possible before pouncing - usually around 200 meters from the prey.

While the cheetah is fast, it is a sprinter and not an endurance runner and its chase will often times last a minute. The longest run measured by a 2013 study, of a cheetah's chase was 559 meters.

While the wild hunting action might take just 1 minute, the preparation and stalking of prey are often much longer and calculated.

18. How much does a cheetah eat?

On a daily basis, a cheetah will eat about 4 kilograms (8.8 lb)of meat. Given that the average adult human eats around 2 kg per day, a cheetah eats twice as much food, in the form of raw meat.

There are variations of course. For example, a cheetah in Etosha National Park of Namibia was found to consume as much as 10 kilograms in just 2 hours.

19. Are cheetahs solitary?

Adult female cheetahs are solitary and live alone except when they have cubs. Male cheetahs often live in groups of 3 or 4, made up of brothers.

20. How do cheetahs produce?

Female cheetahs give birth after a pregnancy period of 3 months. The litter usually has up 2 to 8 cubs which have to be protected by their mother from predators.

21. How long do cubs stay with their mom

cheetah with cub

Young cheetah cubs will stay under the care of their mother for up to 2 years. In this period the mother cheetah is responsible for teaching them the various survival skills that a cheetah must possess - to stay alive in the wild.

22. How long do cheetahs live

In the wild, Cheetahs often live for a period of 10 to 15 years. In captivity, such as the zoo, a cheetah is capable of living up to 20 years.

23. What sounds do cheetahs make?

Cheetahs make a range of sounds and vocalizations as a way of communicating with each other. Cheetahs purr, meow, chirp, churr, hiss, growl, and a whole lot more.

Unlike other big cats like the lion, cheetahs don't roar and their sounds are anything but scary for the wilderness comparisons.

24. What threats face cheetahs?

In the wild, the biggest threats for cheetahs are habitat loss and population fragmentation. Habitat loss is a result of human activity which needs land for agriculture and industry.

Population fragmentation slows down the rate at which the cheetah population could grow.

25. What kills cheetahs?

Cheetahs try to avoid the other big predators because animals such as lions, hyenas, wild dogs, and leopards do often kill cheetahs, especially the young cubs.

By the nature of their size, cheetahs can't mount a fight against many big hunters and try to stay out of the way. Most cheetahs are killed as cubs when their mother goes hunting and another predator finds them.

26. Are cheetahs in danger?

Yes, Cheetahs are in danger. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)has classified them as vulnerable species. Even worse is the fact that the numbers are decreasing.

27. How many cheetahs are left in the wild?

According to IUCN data, there are 6674 cheetahs left in the wild. As mentioned above, most of these are in Eastern and Southern Africa, with some Asiatic cheetahs only left in Iran.

28. Does Tourism help Cheetahs?

Tourism helps in the protection of cheetahs by contributing to various conservation activities such as research, outreach, local economy in the nearby communities, and more.

While it is the wild, and nature has to happen for each animal, tourism helps to protect the habitat and prevent human factors such as poaching.

When the local communities are able to benefit from the conservation, they become wonderful partners in protecting cheetahs and all the other animals in the ecosystem.

Final Thoughts

The fact that cheetahs are built for maximum speed is fascinating, and watching a hunt with your own eyes is a true appreciation of nature. We hope this article has encouraged you to add cheetahs to your bucket list of African animals to see.

And when you get to take that trip to see such animals like cheetahs on an African wildlife safari, know that the money you spend goes a long way in keeping these animals and ecosystems alive and intact.

While cheetahs are fascinating animals, it is bad that the numbers in the wild are decreasing - which is bad for the ecosystem.

We can only hope that the ongoing conservation efforts turn this trend around such that cheetahs can still roam the wilderness - the way nature intended.

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