The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) also known as the Hunting Leopard, is arguably one of the easiest wild cats to recognise. With its sleek and slender body, deep chest, and its spotted coat, the cheetah is impossible to mistake for any other species.
HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
Found in Iran and eastern and southern Africa, the cheetah prefers savannah, plains, dry forests and grasslands. In these environments the cheetah can pursue its prey of large and medium sized mammals.
Cheetahs are generally a pale cream to yellow colour, with a white underside. Their coat is covered in small black spots, although in the 'King Cheetah' morph these spots merge in to patches and the back exhibits stripes. The face has small black tear tracks from the eyes down to the mouth. The small head exhibits large nostrils that help take in extra oxygen when running. The long slender legs are spotted, as is the tail. Its claws cannot fully retract which is unusual among the feline world. An adult cheetah has a length of around 1.1 - 1.4m with a tail approximately 65 - 85cm long, and stands 66 - 85cm at the shoulder, with males being larger than the females.
DIET, BEHAVIOUR AND REPRODUCTION
Prey items include the Thomson's Gazelle (Gazella thomsoni) and the Impala (Aepyceros melampus). The cheetah has a top speed of about 110km/h (70mph), but it can only retain it for a few hundred metres, any longer and it will overheat and over strain its heart. It takes only 3 strides to go from 0 - 40mph! When at full stride the cheetah will try to trip its prey with a swipe of its paw, and then suffocate it when grounded.After a gestation period of 90 - 100 days, cheetahs give birth to an average of 3 - 5 cubs. The cubs resemble the parents, but their long cub fur makes the spots appear blurry, and they have a long mane of greyish-white fur along their backs (this may be for protection as it has a slight resemblance to the aggressive Honey Badger - Mellivora capensis). The small cubs need all the help they can get as infant mortality rates are high, mainly due to predation from lions and hyenas. While females are solitary, males may join together to form small coalitions.
OTHER NOTABLE FACTS
Other colour forms of the cheetah have been reported, these include the Albino (all white, pink skin and eyes), the Erythristic Cheetah (cream is orange, spots dark brown), Maltese Cheetah (washed out grey colour), Isabelline Cheetah (creamish with orange-brown spots), Melanistic (black base coat and spots), Ticked Cheetah (spotless or very few spots), Woolly Cheetah (long woolish fur). The King Cheetah morph was once believed to be a distinct species and given the temporary name of Acinonyx rex.
Other than the cheetah, no members of the Acinonyx genus are alive today. The cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world.
Due to hunting and loss of habitat and prey, the cheetah is listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable with the Asiatic subspecies listed as Critically Endangered (only around 50 wild individuals remain).
There are currently 5 subspecies of cheetah:
Asiatic Cheetah (A. j. venaticus)
Northwest African Cheetah (A. j. hecki)
South African Cheetah (A. j. jubatus)
Sudan Cheetah (A. j. soemmeringii)
Tanzanian Cheetah (A. j. raineyii)