Top 100 Cheetah Facts

  • Cheetahs use their tails to steer while running. The tail acts like the rudder of a ship, pointing the cat in the direction it wants to go.
  • Cheetahs have black "tear stripes" running from the corners of their eyes. These help block out sunlight, which aids them in spotting prey.
  • The giant cheetah, now extinct, was twice the size of a modern cheetah. Its size may have helped it move faster or take down larger prey.
  • The extinct giant cheetah lived from 2.5 million to 125,000 years ago in Eurasia alongside leopards and the forerunners of modern jaguars.
  • The extinct giant cheetah was roughly twice the size of today’s cheetah. It was as tall as a lion, but weighed much less (around 260 pounds).
  • The cheetah is the only living member of its genus, Acinonyx, which includes 4 or 5 extinct members – one of them the giant cheetah.
  • A cheetah-like cat, Miracinonyx, lived in North America to around 12,000 years ago. It was fast like a cheetah but related to the cougar.
  • Predation by the extinct American cheetah is thought to be the reason why pronghorns evolved to run so swiftly. Their top speed is 60 mph.
  • The cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal. It can reach a top speed of 70 mph in short bursts.
  • Not only is the cheetah faster than any other land animal, it can accelerate faster too – from a standstill to 60 mph in just three seconds.
  • The word "cheetah" is derived from the Sanskrit word for "variegated," which means “exhibiting patches of different colors.”
  • The cheetah’s genus name, Acinonyx, means “no-move-claw” in Greek. Its claws are semi-retractable, but unsheathed so they are always visible.
  • The cheetah’s species name is Acinonyx jubatus. The word “jubatus” is Latin for “maned,” referring to the dorsal crest found in cheetah cubs.
  • Cheetahs underwent a population bottleneck (sharp reduction in numbers) 10,000 years ago, leaving today’s cats almost genetically identical.
  • Cheetahs went through a population bottleneck (sharp reduction in numbers) 10,000 years ago when 75% of all mammal species vanished.
  • Traditional witch doctors and healers in Africa used cheetah foot bones in rituals to symbolize swiftness and speed.
  • Ancient Egyptians believed a cheetah goddess named “Mafdet” carried the pharaoh’s soul to the afterworld. Cheetahs were symbols of royalty.
  • It’s unclear where cheetahs originated, but a primitive skull unearthed recently in China suggests the cats first evolved in Eurasia 2.5 mya.
  • The cheetah has a long, flexible spine that allows it to cover up to 22 feet in a single stride.
  • Cheetahs take more strides per second as they run faster, which is different from, say, a dog which doesn’t vary its stride.
  • Cheetahs have sharp, semi-retractable claws that act like cleats when the run, giving the cats extra traction.
  • Italian nobles used cheetahs for sport hunting as early as the 5th century. They kept the cats leashed and hooded until it was time to hunt.
  • During the Renaissance virtually every Italian family of nobility, and many French families, kept cheetahs for hunting.
  • Kublai Khan, founder of the Mongol dynasty in China, is thought to have kept hundreds of hunting cheetahs during the 13th century.
  • A 16th century Indian ruler named “Akbar” kept detailed records of collecting around 9,000 individual cheetahs during his 49-year reign.
  • Asiatic cheetahs once roamed across 11 Asian countries. Capture for royalty and habitat loss reduced their numbers to less than 100.
  • Captive cheetahs have a very low birth rate. It wasn’t until 1956 that the first cheetahs were born and raised in captivity.
  • At the end of the 19th century, there were about 100,000 cheetahs. Today, there are between 9,000 and 12,000 left – mostly in Africa.
  • The IUCN lists cheetahs as vulnerable. Habitat loss, prey base reduction and conflict with farmers are among the many threats they face.
  • The cheetah has been associated with royalty since ancient times. Many European and Asian kings and nobles traditionally wore cheetah skins.
  • Ancient Sumerians were the first to depict cheetahs in artwork. The oldest cheetah carving dates back to 3000 B.C.
  • Around 1700 B.C., ancient Egyptians became the first to tame the cheetahs. They were used by Pharaohs as hunting companions.
  • Unlike lions and leopards, cheetahs don’t have razor-sharp claws to bring down their quarry. They must wrestle their prey to the ground.
  • Cheetah moms teach their cubs to kill by presenting them with wounded prey. The cubs learn by trial and error how to end its life.
  • Once a cheetah has caught its prey, it applies a deadly choke hold to the animal’s throat to cut off its air supply.
  • Count down the Top 100 Cheetah Facts, including top speed, fascinating behaviors, origins and more.
  • Cheetahs don’t eat the skin or bones from their kills. If a carcass is missing most of its skin and bones, another predator has gotten to it.
  • At around 6 months, cheetah cubs can finally outrun other predators and their chances for survival increase dramatically.
  • Cheetah moms chirp like birds to call their cubs when they’re out of sight. Likewise, cheetah cubs chirp when they are looking for their mom.
  • While cheetahs can’t roar, they make a variety of sounds including chirping, purring, barking, hissing, bleating (like a meow) and growling.
  • Cheetah families typically break up when the cubs are between 14 and 16 months – around the age when they’ve mastered hunting.
  • Cheetahs don’t have to drink – they get all the water they need from their prey – but they will if water is available.
  • A cheetah mom will leave her cubs once they’re old enough to fend for themselves and it’s time for her to raise a new family.
  • Cheetahs mainly prey on small antelope like impala and Thomson’s gazelles. In groups, they can take down wildebeest, zebras and ostriches.
  • While most cats are nocturnal, cheetahs tend to hunt during daylight, preferring early morning or early evening.
  • Namibia has the world’s largest cheetah population – approximately 3,000 cats, representing 30% of the world’s remaining cheetahs.
  • It’s difficult to tell male and female cheetahs apart, but males are a bit larger and have a slightly bigger head than female cheetahs.
  • Cheetah cubs are born with dark fur and their spots are blended together, helping them to blend in with the shadows.
  • In their first few weeks, cheetah cubs grow a fuzzy, grayish coat on their back. It protects them from rain, sun and keeps them camouflaged.
  • Cheetah cubs have markings that resemble a honey badger – a small vicious predator that other predators avoid.
  • Cheetah cubs grow a fuzzy, gray mantle that begins to vanish at 3 months. Traces of it remain as a small mane until the cat is 2 years old.
  • It takes a cheetah three strides to accelerate from zero to 40 mph, and only a few seconds more to reach 70 mph.
  • At close to full speed (70 mph), the cheetah is taking three strides every second – covering 20 to 25 feet per stride.
  • Cheetahs will take up to 150 breaths per minute during a high-speed chase – nearly triple their normal respiratory rate.
  • A cheetah can only run at a full sprint for 400 to 600 yards before tiring out. Once the chase is over, it’s highly vulnerable to predators.
  • The cheetah has a large, powerful heart and big, strong arteries to help blood flow quickly from the lungs to the muscles while running.
  • Cheetahs need ample oxygen for energy when running, so they have enlarged nostrils and sinuses to increase air flow to their oversized lungs.
  • Cheetahs have long, slender limbs with specialized muscles that allow the limbs to swing in a wide arc for increased acceleration.
  • Cheetah moms may use their tails, tipped in black or white fur, to signal to their cubs while traveling through tall grass.
  • Grooming is a very important to cheetahs. They spend several hours a day cleaning their fur – a bonding experience in cheetah groups.
  • Cheetahs have a wide field of vision – 50% greater than humans – and can see objects in detail from over 3 miles away.
  • Male cheetahs make a stutter call when on the trail of a female cheetah in heat. Moms use the same call to tell their cubs to keep up.
  • Count down the Top 100 Cheetah Facts, including top speed, fascinating behaviors, origins and more.
  • When a cheetah is threatened, it will hiss and crouch, and may slap the ground or even lunge. It will also growl like a dog.
  • Expecting cheetah moms make their dens in quiet, hidden spots – often in tall grass, thick underbrush or near a clump of rocks.
  • When cheetah cubs are very young, mom moves them frequently so that their scent doesn’t build up at the nest area and attract predators.
  • Cheetah moms carry their young in their cubs when they’re very young and unable to walk long distances.
  • Cheetah moms may be away from their cubs for up to 48 hours when hunting, which leaves the young vulnerable to lions and other predators.
  • Most cheetah cubs don’t reach 3-6 months of age. Predators, prey scarcity, exposure and grass fires are common causes of death.
  • Cheetahs have low genetic diversity, which causes frequent birth defects among cubs. Two-headed and six-legged cubs are not uncommon.
  • Many cheetahs have a crooked or kinked tail, an abnormality caused by low genetic diversity.
  • Cheetahs prefer wide open spaces, like savannah and even semiarid desert, but can live in thick bush and even mountainous terrain.
  • Cheetah cubs leave the den at 1-1/2 to 2 months of age, but continue to nurse until 3 to 4 months, at which time they start eating meat.
  • Cheetah cubs play often, stalking, chasing and pouncing, wrestling and playing tug-of-war, etc. This helps them learn hunting skills.
  • Cheetah cubs often play by chasing and tripping one another from behind – a skill they use later in life to hunt and take down prey.
  • Cheetah cubs at play will chase and try to catch small birds, like guinea fowl. This is practice for hunting later in life.
  • Adult cheetahs live relatively short lives in the wild. About 10 to 12 years is the maximum.
  • Male cheetahs mark their territory by scent-marking trees with urine, feces or by scratching. Such a tree is called a “play tree.”
  • Scientists track cheetahs in the wild with lightweight radio collars fitted around the cheetah’s neck.
  • Male cheetahs often form coalitions to defend large territories. Females have wide ranges too, but those with cubs tend to stay in one area.
  • Cheetahs catch their prey about 50% of the time. Mother cheetahs are less successful because their cubs sometimes disturb the hunt.
  • Lions, hyenas and leopards often chase cheetahs away from their kills, so even a successful hunt may not result in a meal for a cheetah.
  • Farmers in Africa set up trap cages at spots frequented by cheetahs as a form of predator control.
  • In some areas, farming has caused woody plants to encroach on grasslands, leading cheetahs to rely more on ambushing than high-speed chases.
  • Cheetahs in areas where woody plants have replaced grassland (as a result of farming) are at greater risk of eye injury.
  • Many African farmers use Anatolian shepherds (dogs) to protect their livestock from cheetahs instead of trapping and persecuting the cats.
  • Cheetahs often don’t fare well in protected game reserves, where they are unable to compete with larger predators.
  • The cheetah’s golden coat with many small, black spots helps it blend in with their grassy habitat.
  • In addition to antelopes and gazelles, cheetahs also prey on rabbits, warthogs, porcupines and various birds, including ostrich.
  • At the height of an intense chase, a cheetah’s body temperature will rise to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cheetahs are the only big cats than can turn in midair while sprinting after their prey.
  • There are about four commonly recognized cheetah subspecies in Africa: the northern, southern, eastern and central African cheetahs.
  • The king cheetah was once thought to be a unique subspecies, but the vertical stripes running down its back are caused by a genetic mutation.
  • The size of a cheetah’s territory can vary greatly – from 14 to 62 square miles. Only male cheetahs establish territories.
  • A cheetah has a 50% chance of losing its kill to other predators. Hunting at “off” times of the day and eating immediately reduces this risk.
  • In the ancient world, cheetahs were often associated with Dionysus, or Bacchus, who was the god of grapes, wine, ritual madness and ecstasy.
  • The cheetah’s ability to suddenly decelerate from a top speed of 70 mph when catching prey is as important as its ability to accelerate.
  • Cheetahs match and may even anticipate the escape tactics of different prey when hunting rather than just relying on speed.
  • Cheetahs don’t try to outrun their prey. Once they catch up, they slow down and make sharp, calculated turns while closing in.
  • Cheetahs make distinct facial expressions to signal their mood, enhanced by the black teardrop markings that run along their muzzle.
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