The Cheetah is the fastest land mammal on the planet, reaching speeds up to 112km/hour, although the average speed of a chase is around 64km/hour.
The body of the Cheetah is designed for speed and agility – they are sprinters not marathon runners. Cheetahs are the only cats with claws that do not retract, using these much the same way athletes use their spikes to dig into the ground for better traction when running. Cheetahs grow between 70 – 90cm in height, and weigh between 35 – 65kg. The males are approximately 10kg heavier than the females.
There may be fewer than 10,000 Cheetah remaining in the wild, predominantly in Africa, with their numbers still declining. As a species the Cheetah is classed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN red list), however subspecies in northwest Africa, and The Asiatic Cheetah are listed as Critically Endangered. Cheetah numbers are in decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation, the illegal pet and fur trade, loss of prey from their diet, as well as conflict with farmers who perceive them to be a threat to their livestock.
Cheetah formerly ranged in Asia, Western Iran and throughout Africa except for the true desert areas. Today, Cheetahs have disappeared from 89% of their historic African range. Cheetah can now only be found in fragmented countries peppered throughout eastern and southern regions of Africa, and small populations in Iran. Their main habitats are open country, from semi-desert to dry savannahs, including light woodland.
Cheetahs are solitary animals, particularly the females, and do not live in prides like lions. It is not unusual however to find a coalition of brothers living and working together to defend territories and have greater success in hunting.
Cheetahs have excellent vision and rely on this for hunting far more than their sense of smell. Their large nasal passages are actually designed for sucking in huge amounts of air as they speed after their prey. The dark ‘tear marks’ down their face reduce the glare of the burning sun, much like a pair of sunglasses, also helping to sharpen their keen eyesight.
Cheetahs are also equipped with other amazing adaptations to help with their speed and hunting techniques – their long, thick tail is used in the same way a rudder is used to steer a boat, particularly when making short, sharp turns. Their long, slender body is perfectly streamlined for such great speeds, and a spring-like spine enables the long legs of the Cheetah to have a reach measuring 7–8 metres per stride. In fact, put all that together and a Cheetah can sprint from 0 – 80km/hour in just 3 seconds!
Prepare to be awed when you visit Werribee Open Range Zoo and come face-to-face with our Cheetah, Earth’s fastest land mammal.