The cheetah is known throughout the world as the fastest animal on land. The speed is perhaps somewhat exaggerated. My research indicats 64 mph max. The cheeetah is inbred. There are other wildcats that are inbred: Siberian tiger to name one. The cheetah has been tamed and has a long history of thousands of years as a “pet”. This must give us an indication as to its character.
Its scientific name is Acinonyx jubatus. The cheetah’s appearance is well known. It is similar in size to the leopard but a little taller and much more slender; a body designed for sprinting. The legs are thin, the body long and deep chested. The cheetah is distributed in a fragmented way throughout large parts of Africa. The largest population is in Namibia. There may a vestigal population in Iran (2011). Its habitat is being consistently reduced due to mankind’s increased activities.
The cheetah lives in open landscape, grassy plains and open woodlands. This allows it to use its skills in chasing and outpacing prey. The cheetah mainly hunts in the day. Thomson’s gazelle is the main prey. An unsurprising cheetah fact is that it is assessed as vulnerable in respect of its survival in the wild by the IUCN Red List™. The main threat to its survival is habitat loss.
Update: a page on cheetah sounds.
Update Sept 6, 2021: The cheetah’s classification by the IUCN Red List is out of date and endangers the species. The Red List is next to useless. Their latest information is dated 2014! For God’s sake wake up Red List. The cheetah is ENDANGERED NOT vulnerable: The ‘authoritative’ Red List of Threatened Species is flawed and opens the door to trophy hunting
Current Situation – personal overview on the future
These are my thoughts. They are based in a real concern for the general direction in which the world is moving and the impact on wildlife generally by human activity.
In a word, the situation for the cheetah is dire, I believe. When you watch the best wildlife television programs the crisis over the decline in population of the cheetah seems to be circumvented or insufficiently addressed. Behind the beautiful facade of this fantastic cat, an asset to the world, we have the sad reality of its destruction as a consequence of the destruction of the cheetah’s habitat and human activity.
UPDATE DEC 2017: Population decline. Read about it.
The habitat is now so dramatically eroded that this cat, which needs a very large area to roam in, has in Namibia, been forced to share farmland with the farmers. There can be only one outcome from that perilous arrangement, the further slaughter of this treasured wild cat that has no predator, as it runs too fast. It cannot outrun the farmers bullet; neither can it differentiate between the farmer’s cattle and wild animals as prey. See a window on enlightenment: Employing dogs to protect cats.
Namibia is one of the remaining hot spots of habitat for the cheetah (see Cheetah Geographic range). In other words it is meant to be about as good as it gets for the cheetah yet about 90% of the time it has to share farmland and predictably gets shot sometimes (Why farmers still kill cheetahs in Namibia). The various authorities allow this despite the fact that the cheetah is a protected species in Namibia, is listed in CITES (appendix 1) and is listed in the United States Endangered Species Act. Obviously there is little in the way of enforcement going on. It seems that the Namibian authorities actively encourage the shooting of cheetah. The CCF are trying to change things (see below).
Once again we are in charge. We cannot expect the cheetah to take charge of this dire situation and improve its lot. As always we struggle and fail to do the right thing.
Clearly one of the problems is that the cheetah’s remaining and central habitat is on a continent, Africa, where the people have difficulty dealing with their own problems on a basic level, never mind thinking of wild animals. No criticism is intended. And in any event they will have a different perspective on wild animals, surrounded as they are by them. They are or were common place. For African people the primary concern is survival, there is little space in the lives of the majority for a concern for the plight of the cheetah.
The population of Africa does little to aid the situation. The chart below shows the relentless rise in the past and the faster projected rise in the future. If the cheetah is already sharing land with farmers, there is frankly no chance of anything other than game reserves (probably diminished in size) and zoos for the cheetah.
Cheetah facts – Source of information for human population growth: Wikipedia
Whereas the human population is rising inexorably, the cheetah population travels in the opposite direction and is about to hit the buffers. I see no hope for the cheetah while the human population rises as it does. I can recall many years ago scientists showing concern about the rise in world population and yet the years roll by with no change. Even today we have real and actual consequences of this problem. Recently in 2008 there were stories of world shortages of some basic food such as grain and rice. One cause was the increased population in countries such as India and China, which as they become increasingly westernized and richer, eat better and more food.
Then there is the issue of biofuels. In order to feed the world’s insatiable appetite for petrol (gas) or petroleum derivatives fuel is being increasingly produced from crops. This has had the unexpected consequence of reducing food availability of these basic crops and to the destruction of habitat. There are then a lot of negative consequences for humans of a rising world population. It is not just bad for the cheetah and all the other wild animals. Yet nothing happens. No co-ordinated efforts to control it. I know there is the fear of “social engineering” but it seems this is a matter of common sense.
Interestingly, in the West (see Europe’s population on the chart above) the projected human population is a declining one. In fact, in a number of developed countries populations are expected to decline. Even in Africa in one or two countries the Aids epidemic has caused declining populations but overall it is rising.
Conversely and in unison, the world cheetah population is in decline and currently (at 2016) stands at an estimate 6,674. See this page for more on this number.
cheetah facts – photo © Arno-&-Louise
The cheetah is built for speed and its size and physical attributes reflect this. Its very survival depends on her speed. It is speed that allows this cat to catch prey such as gazelle, effectively. It is its speed that allows her to outrun predators that would otherwise catch and kill it. The cheetah protects that attribute by giving up her caught prey to other predators, avoiding injury that could in effect end her life.
The cheetah has a noticeably small head in which are high set eyes and distinctive black lines running down from the eyes to the mouth. It is thought that this dark fur helps reduce reflection/glare and allows it to see more effectively. They are reminiscent of the black make up worn by American footballers in the USA, who do this for the same purpose.
Update 21st August 2010: A new page on cheetah description.
Cheetah Speed – this is a link to speed – some cheetah facts
The cheetah as we all know is the fastest land animal on the planet, but there are animals that have far greater speed+distance combinations, the humble Mongolian Wild Ass being one. The cheetah can attain high speed for no more than about 30 seconds. You can read more about how she achieves this raw speed by clicking on the heading to this section. In summary it is cheetah speed and acceleration, which sets her apart from all other land animals is due to a rare combination of:
- size designed for speed
- an abandonment of efficiency and a focus on pure speed over a set short distance
- flexibility of the back
- co-ordination of leg and back muscles
- a massive stride
- physical attributes such as long legs, over sized liver, lungs and heart.
The video shows the flexibility in the spine, a crucial factor in generating speed. Click the header to this section to read why. Also see: How fast can a cheetah run?
The cheetah’s great speed was used by people for sport, a cruel sport however (perhaps it still is). The Times newspaper of 21st January 1956 reported on the pastime of a maharajah who kept 2 cheetahs for hunting. He clearly loved the pastime. The cheetahs were trained. They were transported to an area were the very fast (max about 50+ mph) blackbuck were grazing. During transportation the cheetahs had their heads covered in the same way as hawks have their heads covered before being released.
Once the maharajah, his large entourage and the Times journalist were close enough to the blackbuck, a cheetah was released. The cheetah performed his trick and managed to catch a buck. One of the maharajah’s employees walked over to the heavily breathing cheetah and terrified buck and slit the throat of the blackbuck collecting some of the blood in an antique container. He poured the blood into the mouth of the Cheetah to encourage him to release the blackbuck, which he did.
This was a way of life in 1956 in India, another cheetah fact. It demonstrates the relationship we have with the cheetah and other large wild cats. We relate to them on our terms or not at all except to kill them. The story is provided from the Times Archive. See Hunting with Cheetahs.
Cheetah Habitat – this is a link to habitat – some cheetah facts
Photo above © Andries3
This is a lovely picture of cheetah habitat. The male cheetah likes to range over a very wide area. The cheetah likes open land like the grassland you see in this picture. This suits the cheetah’s primary skill for survival – speed. The cheetah can live successfully in less open landscapes and is able to manoeuvre when running with the aid of its tail (acting as a counterbalance type rudder) and its semi-retractable claws.
The heading to this section is a link to a full page and a fine picture of cheetahs is their habitat.
Cheetah Cubs – this is a link to cheetah cubs – some cheetah facts
Cheetah cubs are gorgeous to look at; innocent vulnerability with great athletism to come.
Sadly for 9 out of 10 cheetah cubs the chance to express their wonderful talents will never be realized as they will succumb to predators or disease in their first few highly dangerous months of life.
It is interesting to note that it is not people who kill cheetah cubs (except indirectly by killing their parents). People kill the adult cheetahs as we cannot live in harmony with them in Africa.
Once again the heading to this section is a link to some fine pictures of cheetah cubs and a lot more facts.
Cheetah Food Chain (new window) food chain – some cheetah facts
cheetah facts – photo © Picture Taker 2
The cheetah is at the top of the food chain. No animal can catch it….except the human animal with a rifle.
The cheetah food chain is compact, eating as it does smaller animals such as gazelles. Gazelles feed on plants and plants produce their own food through photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the production of energy from water and carbon dioxide; the process fueled by the sun (light). The sun therefore starts the food chain.
I discuss in more detail the cheetah food chain and you can see that by clicking on the heading to this section.
Cheetah prey – prey
Click on the above link to read the answers to the question, “what do cheetahs eat?” – the other animals that live in its habitat. The animals that the cheetah eats live on the grass and plants of the wide spaces where they live. The are in the middle of the food chain.
King Cheetah – king cheetah – some cheetah facts
The king cheetah is not a king amongst all the cheetahs. It is simply a cheetah with a different coat. A much treasured and admired coat by people and probably the main reason why this superb big cat is so precariously rare. It was hunted for her skin.
Only in relatively recent times (as recently really as the 1980s or so) has sections of the human race woken up to the idea that killing our fellow creatures so we can wear their skins on our backs is a throwback to cave man instincts. It is frankly barbaric. And there are still many countries and peoples who simply have no tender feelings for their fellow creatures. These people are perhaps not to be overly criticized or criticized at all. It is simply the way it is now. But very sad for me at least. These are the cheetah facts.
Fortunately, conservation projects like the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust in South Africa have been able to breed the King Cheetah so it seems at least we will not loose this fine animal completely. But we will not be able to see her roaming completely naturally in the wide open African landscape. That possibility died many years ago.
You can see a page dedicated to this cat by clicking on the heading to this section, which is also a link. And there are some more pictures on this page as well (opens in new window). Apparently Canberra Zoo, Australia, allows people to share some time with the king cheetah (i.e. get up close). When people are close to these animals they realize how precious they are.
Conservation is the only way forward. Conservation facilities will be the habitat, the only habitat, for the cheetah in years to come.
There are some fine organisations doing valuable work. And most of the work needs to be carried out in Africa. The De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust has had notable success it seems in captive breeding of the cheetah and other animals. The trust is approved by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) for breeding.
We are able to conserve, preserve the cheetah but we are unable to do the same for the cheetah’s habitat (except in a limited way). Is one truly viable without the other? I hope so.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) is another active and well known organization dedicated to the task of saving the cheetah. The organization is based in Namibia, where the largest remaining population of the cheetah is found and where the population is still declining. Their vision is to see people co-existing with the cheetah. I’d like to hear from them as to why farmers are still killing cheetahs in Namibia. It is probably down to the government. If they don’t support programs through proper enforcement there is little chance of success.
Whereas the CCF primarily (but far from solely) operates in Namibia, Cheetah Conservation Botswana, as the name indicates, is concerned with cheetahs in Botswana.
There are many others. I am personally pessimistic as you can no doubt see. It is too late I believe to do anything but to create semi-artificial environments in which captive bred cheetah live; a kind of expanded zoo.
Endangered cheetah – Endangered cat
Click on the above link to see an expanded discussion and some more charts on this subject. I make my own mind up. You will agree or not.
Cheetah Facts – Sources: the sources for the information on the linked pages are at the base of each page. The sources for the charts on this page are below the charts.
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