How do cheetahs hunt?

Cheetah hunting
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Cheetah hunting. Photo: Justin Jensen

“A hungry cheetah has two ways of finding a meal.” Cheetahs either watch from a resting site or walk slowly through grassland looking for prey. They might also scan the area from a raised platform such as a termite mound.

Cheetahs tend to select a ‘prey item’ (an individual animal) before chasing. Animals selected are those that are judged to be more vulnerable because they are less vigilant. Three-quarters of hunts are abandoned at the stalking phase because the prey detected the cheetah.

They get as close as possible before sprinting. When there is cover this may be within 30 meters. If there is no cover the cheetah will approach a herd of gazelles openly and get to within 60 meters before sprinting at the selected individual. Sometimes they trot towards prey and shift up a gear when within 200 meters.

Cheetahs are stimulated by the prey’s flight response. Prey that stands its ground is unlikely to be attacked.

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Cheetahs are often found where there are herds of gazelle or gazelle-like antelopes in the 20-50 kilogram range. Cheetahs mainly feed on medium-sized ungulates (hooved animals).

At the end of the sprint chase, the cheetah knocks the prey down. When close to and just behind prey, the cheetah reaches out and “hooks the prey with the large, strongly curved declaw, throwing the prey off balance.”

The cheetah might simply knock the prey over with a slap to the backside. The prey topples over and the cheetah grabs and strangles it with a throat bite. Strangulation takes effect because the prey’s trachea is closed off so the animal can’t breath.

Large prey is suffocated with a throat bite. This is typical of all big cats. The throat bite will usually be held for about five minutes while the cheetah usually lies down.

Smaller animals are grabbed by the muzzle to suffocate or through a neck bite. Young impalas and hares can be dispatched with a bite to the skull.

A lot of energy is expended in killing prey. A cheetah might drag prey carcass into the shade of a bush or tree and rest for up to around 45 minutes.

Cheetahs occasionally scavenge, eating an animal killed by another predator. It is quite rare to see a cheetah scavenging because hyenas and vultures have probably fed on the carcass first. Within 2minutes of a carcass appearing more than 20 vultures will be circling above.

Cheetahs mainly hunt at day. Depending on the area the time of hunting varies. In hot climates, such as the Sahara, cheetahs hunt at night and at daybreak.

In order to avoid the hunting hours of the lion and hyena in the Serengeti, the cheetah hunts at slightly different hours to these predators in the morning and evening.


Note: the quotes and the information comes from Wild Cats of the World by the Sunquists.

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Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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