The Cheetah is the fastest runner of all animals
Its body is built for speed
Cheetahs live on the African grasslands
Cheetahs eat meat.
Cheetahs live on the grasslands of eastern and southern Africa.
These big cats have yellow fur with dark spots. Their faces have a dark line from each eye to the corners of their mouths. We think this helps them see across the grasslands in the hot sunshine: the dark fur works like sunglasses to stop the glare. Cheetahs are the smallest of the big cat group. They do not roar, but make a chirping sound.
Cheetahs are the fastest of all land animals. They eat meat, usually animals like small antelopes. They run to chase their prey. At the start of a chase they run at 80 kilometres per hour, but they reach a speed of 112 kilometres per hour for a short distance. When running this fast, one stride stretches over 7 metres long, with all four legs off the ground.
After running so fast, a cheetah needs about half an hour to recover. It cannot defend itself when it is so tired after such a run, so other animals such as hyenas and lions can easily take its kill away from it. The cheetah hunts in daytime, but not during the middle part of the day when it is very hot. It shelters during the middle of the day to keep cool. Lions and other predators hunt at dawn and dusk, so the cheetah waits until they have finished hunting and have begun their rest.
A cheetah’s body is made to help it run at such fast speeds. It is not a heavy animal, with a small head. Its legs are long. Its long tail helps it balance and steer. All other cats can pull their claws in or push them out, but a cheetah’s claws are always out and help it grip the ground when it runs fast. Its foot pads have ridges to help it grip the ground when it is running. It has large passages inside its nose to help it breathe while running fast.
Because a cheetah depends on its speed to get food, even a small injury can mean it cannot hunt. A cheetah’s body is light and lean, so it has no stored body fat to help it survive when there is little food around.
Behaviours and Life Cycle
Cheetahs generally live alone. Sometimes brothers from one litter may stay together when they are grown up, and then they hunt as a team and can chase bigger prey such as zebra. Female cheetahs are always alone, except for their cubs. Usually three or four cubs, sometimes more, are born in one litter. The mother must continue to eat so that she has milk to feed them, and so she must hide them and leave them for long periods while she hunts. She moves them to a new hiding place every few days to keep them safe. When they are six months old, the mother cheetah brings back small live animals so that the cubs can learn and practice how to chase prey. When they are a year old they start hunting and catching small animals by themselves, with some help from their mother. By the time they are two, the cubs move away and live by themselves.
Cheetahs are classified as endangered, which means their numbers are dangerously low.
People are building homes and farms on the grasslands so there is less space for the cheetahs in the wild.
Many cheetah cubs die because they have to be left alone for so long, which is dangerous for them.
The low survival rate of young cheetahs is because:
cubs are killed by other animals, such as lions;
starvation, for example if the mother is killed;
fire or bad weather;
Find out more about Cheetahs:
Click here for a fact sheet
Click here for information, and also about how we can help save the Cheetah
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Cheetah (2000). [Online], Available: www.kidcyber.com.au
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Updated July 2006