Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) | Top Characteristics, Habitat & Amazing Facts

An Overview of the Cheetah

The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is widely known as the planet’s fastest land animal, reaching speeds of up to 70 miles per hour during hunts of prey that can be five times its weight. Here’s everything you need to know about this amazing species that has fascinated people for centuries.
Fast doesn’t even begin to describe it – a cheetah can hit speeds of up to 75 mph, which is a heck of a lot faster than most vehicles on today’s roadways! With a body designed for speed, including a lanky frame and short legs, these amazing animals are capable of running all day. Unfortunately, human interference and poaching have made it difficult for cheetahs to survive in today’s environment – but conservation efforts have helped bring populations back in some areas. That said, they still face risks and need our help more than ever before. Learn more about them below

Common Name

There are a few accepted common names for cheetahs, which include: forest cheetah, spotted cheetah, and Asiatic cheetah; however, the cheetah is considered to be an acceptable term to describe any of these subspecies as long as it is preceded by their geographic location (e.g., East African cheetah).

Anatomy & Features

Like all cats, cheetahs have retractable claws and flexible ankle joints that enable them to run fast, jump high, and stalk prey. They are built for speed with a lean build and an elongated body that helps prevent air drag when running at top speeds of 120 km/h (75 mph). Cheetahs have a spotted coat pattern for camouflage which helps them hide from prey but also predators like lions. To keep cool under hot African suns,  have large nostrils for increased airflow to cool their bodies as well as their relatively low metabolic rate which is comparable to smaller mammals with slower heart rates than dogs or other large carnivores.

Life Cycle & Reproduction

Typically, two cubs are born to a litter; however, litters of 3 and 4 have been recorded in captivity. They develop quickly and within a week they leave their den with their mother; they will remain together for up to 2 years while they learn hunting techniques. A female cheetah can begin breeding at 18 months old and has a gestation period of 90-96 days, after which she gives birth to 1-6 cubs (typically 2). Cubs are weaned at around 6 months old but may not leave their mother’s care until 9-15 months old when they will be kicked out to establish their territory or seek one out for themselves.

Subspecies & Behavior

Three subspecies of cheetah are recognized based on their range: The African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus heck), which is found in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe; a north African subspecies (A. j. Leo); and a central Asian subspecies (A. j. venaticus) that was originally discovered in Iran but has since been sighted in countries including Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan In Africa, cheets prefer open grasslands with enough cover to spot prey from above, such as trees or termite mounds—but they are not finicky about where they hunt for long periods.

Life Span

15 years in captivity and 8–10 years in the wild with some living up to 17 years in captivity, though the exact lifespan is unknown. Since they are fast they can avoid lions, hyenas, leopards and sometimes are killed by adult male cheetahs during mating season. In zoos, can be put under anesthesia every 6 months for dental care to avoid tooth loss as well as annual vaccinations for rabies and other required vaccines every year. To have a chance at reproducing within a zoo environment it’s recommended that 2 males share 1 female enclosure but if one is left alone it will still mate itself despite not having much of a chance at pregnancy.


Incredible Facts

Even though it is known as one of nature’s most rapid animals, you might be surprised to learn that in captivity, cheetahs have been clocked running as fast as 110 mph. Despite their extraordinary speed, their main diet consists mostly of small antelopes such as gazelles and impalas; they’ll also eat birds and other reptiles, but they don’t typically target larger game like wildebeests and zebras (not that they couldn’t take down something like a Cape buffalo). While not an aggressive species by nature, male cheetahs will sometimes fight each other for dominance over females—they’ll also risk life and limb to protect their cubs from rival males.

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