Do cheetahs kill people and could a person kill a cheetah?

Summary: the answer to the first part of the question in the title is yes, for captive cheetahs, but infinitesimally rarely, and the answer to the second part is also yes but it would have to be an exceptional person in terms of strength and abilities to achieve it.

Cheetah attack on boy
Cheetah attack on boy. Click on the image to read the story.
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Do cheetahs kill people?

My research indicates that it has never happened in the wild. If it does happen, it happens when the cat is in captivity. Research by another website ( indicates that there have been two fatalities of people by cheetahs, one a child and the other an adult woman who entered a cheetah enclosure without permission. But that statistic concerns the entire recorded history of captive cheetahs. Therefore, when you ask whether cheetahs kill people the answer is that it has happened but infinitesimally rarely.

It’s rare because relative to other big cats, cheetahs are not as strong. There are relatively timid as well. Their claws are worn down a lot more and therefore less sharp because they’re not sheathed in the same way that the claws of a domestic cat are. This means injuries from claws are going to be less likely. Their bite strength is lower than the other large cats. It depends on the person obviously. That’s why the two fatalities concern a woman and a child. It’s been suggested that in the case of the grown woman, there was more than one animal involved.

The bottom line is that an adult human is not the sort of animal that a cheetah would attack. They’d rather go in the opposite direction but in captivity they may be forced into contact with a person and provoked to attack.

There is a good example today in The Sun newspaper. A female zookeeper, 18, was bitten on her arm twice by a cheetah in captivity. She said that she thought she was going to die but there was little or no chance of it. It was a female cheetah and the woman had four big fang holes and needed stitches.

Woman attacked by captive cheetah
Woman attacked by captive cheetah. Belgian Amandine Lequime, 18, was filming outside the cheetah’s enclosure. Credit: Jamie Pyatt News Ltd

The Sun newspaper does not explain or speculate as to why the cheetah attacked. There will be a reason for it obviously; some sort of inadvertent provocation perhaps. Apparently, this female cheetah has attacked before but some time ago. It seems that captive cheetahs become habituated to people and therefore less fearful of them and so on attack is more likely as opposed to the wild where cheetahs tend to avoid people.

The woman screamed in fear but if she had known of the extreme rarity of real harm being caused by a cheetah on a person, she might have been less frightened. The photograph of her and the cheetah shows the size difference.

Can a person kill a cheetah?

I am referring to killing a cheetah without a weapon. It depends what sort of person we are talking about. They come in all sizes and shapes, sexes and strengths! The average person probably couldn’t kill a cheetah without a weapon whereas a very strong man possibly could.

Although they say that cheetahs are relatively timid (a bit like the mountain lion in that respect) and considerably weaker than the tiger or lion, they are still a very large cat and therefore intimidating and potentially dangerous. You wouldn’t want to get into a fight with a cheetah and you’d have to be a very resourceful person with considerable strength to be able to kill a cheetah with your bare hands. I would think that there are very few people who have the abilities to do it.

The thing is that it is pure speculation. We are guessing. It’s never happened to the best of my knowledge. No doubt people have killed cheetahs with weapons such as guns or crossbows but a raw hand-to-paw fight has never happened as far as I know. So, the theory has not been tested.

I have been in an enclosure with a smaller but medium-sized wild cat, the serval. In some respects the serval is a smaller version of the cheetah with long limbs and a slender body. I was intimidated and I wouldn’t want to fight a serval never mind a cheetah. I would guess that the outcome in 99% of cases of such a fictional fight would be injuries to the person and perhaps to the cheetah but neither would die at the hands of the other.


Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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