What Do Cheetahs Eat? Diet, hunting & eating habits of cheetahs in the wild (& zoo)

Cheetahs are the fastest land animals and their speed is critical in ensuring their survival in the unforgiving African wilderness. Unlike the other big African cats like lions and leopards, cheetahs are built for speed and not for strength, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage when it comes to getting prey in the wild.

This article explores what cheetahs eat in the wild as well as how they go about hunting, and how their young ones survive before they can hunt.

What do cheetahs eat in the Wild?

Cheetahs are super carnivores like the other big cats and feed on only meat. Due to their smaller and lighter size, cheetahs have a narrower range of prey that includes most small to medium-sized animals.

Cheetahs mostly eat animals that often weigh no more than 50 kilograms.

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cheetah with prey

What animals do cheetahs eat?

Cheetahs often eat small and medium-sized animals like gazelles, antelopes, impalas, and more. Here are some of the common animals that cheetahs hunt and eat in the wild.

  •  Thomsons Gazelle 
  •  Grant's Gazelle 
  •  Sable Antelope 
  •  Roan Antelope 
  •  Dik Dik
  •  Steenbok
  •  Springbok
  •  Gemsbok
  •  Waterbuck
  •  Bushbuck
  •  Duiker
  •  Oribi
  •  Kudu
  •  Impalas
  •  Wildebeest calves 
  •  Ostrich
  •  Guinea fowls 
  •  Warthogs
  •  Rabbits
  •  Hares
  •  African buffalo calves 
  • Hartebeest
  •  Zebra calves/foals
 

How often do cheetahs eat?

An adult cheetah hunts and eats 2 to 3 times each week. A female cheetah with cubs will hunt every day to be able to produce enough milk for the cubs.

How do cheetahs hunt?

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hunting cheetah

Because of their blazing speed, watching cheetahs hunt is spectacular. Cheetahs hunt by utilizing their great eyesight to spot their target and quietly sneak up on it.

When the cheetah is close, it chases after the animal and trips it before killing the prey. They kill the prey by driving their canine teeth into the throat till the animal dies. The prey is then dragged to a safer spot where the cheetah's prey won't be stolen by lions, leopards, or hyenas.

When do cheetahs hunt

Cheetahs are mostly diurnal and hunt during the day. This is unlike other predators that prefer to hunt very early in the morning.

When the day temperatures are high - above 35oC, most cheetahs will adjust their hunting to earlier in the morning or early evening when the temperatures are slightly more bearable. Cheetahs are also capable of hunting at night.

What do cheetah cubs eat?

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cheetah with baby cub

Unlike many other animals in the wild, cheetah cubs are quite helpless in their early infancy. Cheetah cubs are born blind and toothless which is a recipe for death in the savannah.

Cheetah cubs feed on their mother's milk for the first couple of months of their lives. After about 6 months, the young cubs start hunting smaller prey like hares, and slowly, their skills become better. By the time the cubs reach 2 years, they will be fully independent and capable of living on their own.

Do cheetahs eat fish?

Cheetahs do not eat fish. Cheetahs live in the savannah and like to hunt small and medium animals like gazelles, hares, antelopes, and more. Like lions, cheetahs are not great swimmers and do not hunt in the water. 

Cheetahs do like to stay near waterbodies because that is where the other animals (prey) can easily be found.

Do Cheetahs eat zebras?

A healthy zebra is too strong for a cheetah to hunt but cheetahs can sometimes hunt young zebra foals when they are still weak and easier to kill.

A healthy zebra is too strong for any cheetah because its kick will kill most animals.

Do Cheetahs drink water?

Like most animals, cheetahs drink water. Cheetahs are however very adapted to their savannah habitat and drink water once or twice a week.

They often get their water from the rivers and waterholes found in the national parks and game reserves where they live.

What do cheetahs eat at the zoo?

Cheetahs in the captive environments of zoos or sanctuaries have a different diet from their wild counterparts. In the zoo, cheetahs are often fed beef or meat from other animals such as rabbits, chickens, donkeys, and more.

In captivity, cheetahs do eat more regularly than in the wild where they have to hunt and fend off other predators. Depending on the health of the cheetah, its diet can be customized to provide the necessary nutrients.

What eats cheetahs

Like the other big cats and predators, cheetahs belong to the top end of the food chain. However, cheetahs do have to look out for the other larger and more dangerous predators such as lions, leopards, and hyenas.

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leopard-stalking-prey

Cheetahs are often chased from their kills by animals like lions, leopards, and hyenas. Some cheetahs get injured and even lose their lives in these fights for food.

Cheetah cubs are most at risk of being killed and eaten by other predators. This is why most cheetah cubs don't make it to their first year.

Fights and killings of cheetahs by other animals depend on the conditions of the ecosystem especially the presence of easier prey.

Final Thoughts

Like all animals in the wild, it is survival of the fittest. The cheetah's great eyesight and incredible speed are helpful in the hunting of its prey, but its lack of strength means the threat of lions, leopards, and hyenas is always looming.

Cheetah cubs are especially vulnerable to attacks by other animals when the mother is hunting, or when the mother is killed but such is the nature of the wild.

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