The cheetah’s habitat is now
only 11% of its former size

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Cheetah

Conservation Status:

Vulnerable

  • Range depletes 2.26% annually
  • Approximately 6,674 adults remain in the wild
  • Only about 5% of cubs survive to adulthood

Quick Facts

Scientific name

Acinonyx jubatus

Weight

20 to 72 kilograms (45 to 160 pounds)

Size

1 to 1.5 meters in length (45 to 60 inches) 76 centimeters at the shoulder (30 inches)

Life span

Maximum recording of a female living 14 years and 5 months in the wild and about 10 years for a males.

Habitat

Wide range of habitats—from dry forests and thick scrubs through grasslands and Sahara deserts.

Diet

Carnivores

Gestation

About 3 months

Predators

Eagles, humans, hyenas, lions

Habitat

Where do cheetahs live?

The historic distribution of this species is very wide. But in the 1970s, European settlers saw these big cats as vermin to be eradicated, and populations were widely reduced. Currently, they only inhabit about 10 percent of their historic range. Their range occurs widely but is extremely sparse and fragmented in the regions they still inhabit. Southern and Eastern Africa are strongholds for cheetah populations.

Tags: Cheetah, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kazungula, Kilimanjaro, Limpopo, Maasai Steppe, Zambezi, East Africa View Africa | Habitat

Physical Characteristics

What is a cheetah?

There are five subspecies of cheetahs. This cat is slim and has muscular, long legs—in relation to its body size when compared to other cats—a small, rounded head that is set on a long neck, a flexible spine, a deep chest, special pads on its feet for traction, and a long tail for balance. It is also the only cat that cannot retract its claws, an adaptation to help maintain traction like a soccer player’s cleats. It also bears distinctive black “tear tracks” running from the inside corner of each eye to the mouth that may serve as an anti-glare mechanism for daytime hunting.

Behavior & Diet

The cheetah is a fast but timid predator.

They usually prey on small antelopes such as Thomson’s gazelles and impalas but also hunt small mammals and birds. It gets as close to the prey as possible; then in a burst of speed, it tries to outrun its quarry. These big cats are the fastest land mammal and can reach speeds of about 95 to 120 km/h (60-75 mph). Once the cat closes in, it knocks the prey to the ground with its paw and suffocates the animal with a bite to the neck. Once it has made a kill, it eats quickly and keeps an eye out for scavengers–lions, leopards, hyenas, vultures, and jackals will steal from this timid predator. Unfortunately, the cheetah’s speed can’t be maintained for more than a few hundred meters before the individual overheats. The majority of hunts result in failure.

Cheetahs tend to be introverted

The cheetah is a solitary animal. Males have been seen living in coalitions, where they appear extremely tolerant of close proximity to other males. The related members of the coalition will even take part in play and physical contact such as grooming, whereas the unrelated males will generally stick to themselves while remaining in the coalition. Like all females, there are some males who stick to themselves who do not belong to a coalition. They never stay in one place for long and are referred to as nomads. At times, a male will accompany a female for a short while after mating, but most often the female is alone with her cubs. Cheetah mothers spend a long time teaching their young how to hunt. Small, live antelopes are brought back to the cubs so they can learn to chase and catch them.

Gallery
  • Cheetah Billy Dodson
  • Cheetah Lee Slabber
  • Cheetah Fred Hoogervorst
  • Cheetah Billy Dodson
  • Amboseli Chullya Corridor Billy Dodson
Challenges

Human-wildlife conflict threatens their survival.

Cheetahs tend to encounter conflict with farmers when loss of their natural prey leads them to attack livestock resulting in farmers killing them in retaliation.

Habitat loss also presents a major threat to cheetahs.

As human populations grow and expand, agriculture, roads, and settlements destroy the open grasslands that cheetahs favor. Total cheetah populations have been estimated to be 6,674 adults and adolescents. There is a low density of the cheetah across their range meaning they need larges areas of connected habitat for their survival. The majority of known range (76 percent) exists on unprotected lands. This leaves populations to be extremely fragmented, which is cause for concern for their future.

Illegal trade is threatening wild populations.

Live cheetahs are caught and traded illegally to the pet trade and are also hunted for their skin. The East African region is where illegal trade in live cheetahs is most likely to have the greatest negative impact on wild populations.  Although the exact origin the trade is unclear, information from interdictions and interviews with traders suggests the animals are opportunistically collected from Somali regions, including parts of Ethiopia ahond Kenya, and occasionally beyond.

Solutions

Our solutions to conserving the cheetah:

  • Work with communities.

    We engage communities living near cheetahs to create sustainable solutions for agricultural and settlement growth by providing incentives and training on best practices. This allows for both the big cat and farmers to have space in which to live without encroaching on one another.

  • Minimize human-wildlife conflict.

    AWF provides both proactive and reactive strategies to prevent human-wildlife conflict. We work with local communities to construct bomas—enclosures for livestock that protect them from cheetahs. We also provide consolation funding to farmers who have lost livestock to cheetah predation. This allows farmers to replace lost livestock, with the assurance they will not retaliate against big cats and other carnivores.

Projects

Will you show cheetahs your support?

With your help, AWF can work on critical projects like sustainable agriculture solutions and boma construction that benefit both communities and vulnerable species. Donate for a cause that will help with wildlife conservation and ensure this species does not become endangered.

  • Amboseli Chullya Corridor Billy Dodson
    Amboseli-Chyulu Wildlife Corridor
    Connecting two invaluable ecosystems

    Amboseli­-Chyulu Corridor is threatened by agricultural expansion.

    The historic wildlife dispersal area and corridor that extends from Amboseli National Park to Chyulu...

    Read more
    All Projects

  • Sekute Conservation Area AWF
    Sekute Conservation Area
    Community-wide protection of Zambia’s wildlife

    Agriculture and population growth threaten wildlife in Zambia. 

    Historically, wildlife roamed freely around the Sekute Chiefdom in southern Zambia. But, in recent...

    Read more
    All Projects

  • AWF's Machenje Fishing Lodge in Zambia
    Machenje Fishing Lodge
    A tourist destination that benefits animals and people.

    A need to protect Africa’s largest elephant population.

    The Kazungula District of Zambia, the location of the Sekute Chiefdom, lies...

    Read more
    All Projects

  • Lion protected by the Ruaha Carnivore Project
    Ruaha Carnivore Project
    Creating common ground for communities and carnivores

    A critical location for Africa’s top predators.

    Across the continent, Africa’s large carnivores are facing an uncertain future. Lions, cheetahs and African wild dogs have all disappeared...

    Read more
    All Projects

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