CyberDodo and the Cheetah (1-23)

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What does the Cheetah eat ?

He is a pure carnivore who only targets prey of a size that he can kill - either antelope, gazelles, wildebeests, impalas, hares and zebras, given that they weigh less than fifty or so kilos.

Reproduction and the Cheetah

The female Cheetah is pregnant with her babies around 3 months and her pregnancies sometimes involve up to eight cubs, but usually from 3 to 5. At birth, cheetah cubs are far from being super fast hunters and as powerful as they will become, they are completely blind and weigh between 150 to 300 grams. However, they grow quickly and after just one week, they will open their eyes and begin exploring their surroundings.

It is not easy being a baby cheetah since during the first 6 weeks of their life, they cannot follow their mother when she must leave them to go hunting . They are often the victim of predators which kill up to 90% of all cheetah litters….

Those who do survive will be weaned at 6 months but will stay with their mother for a long time, not leaving her until they are between 14 and 18 months old.

In the wild, cheetah cubs are often the victim of predators

Where are cheetahs found?

The great majority lives in Africa, with a few dozen living in the deserts of Iran.

How many cheetahs are there?

Estimates vary widely, but one thing is sure : if the world provided a habitat for more than 100,000 cheetahs at the beginning of the last centry, only 10,000 to 20,000 remain today !

The danger of extinction for this animal is thus very real. It is due to several factors :

First, there is a the impoverishment of their genetic capital given that the species was subject to a partial extinction approximately 10,000 years ago. Apparently due to a climate change, this event drastically impoverished the cheetah’s genetic diversity which is indispensible to the maintenance of a healthy population.

Resultant inbreeding has also had significant negative effects with respect to the quality of their sperm and as such brought about a reduced resistance to various diseases and a reduction in their birth rate. This absence of genetic diversity is worrisome to investigators and raises the question of the possible extinction of the cheetah.

Other dangers imperil the species such as poaching for their fur, which was worn by many in the past, as well as systematic hunting by breeders. Above all, the reduction of their natural habitats, taken over by humans, is to blame.

However, a considerable opportunity for a concerted conservation effort is offered by the growing power of eco-tourism which attracts many visitors looking for unspoiled nature. Indeed, this economic boon can contribute to the making of sanctions of their last remaining territories, essentially in eastern Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) and in the south (Botswana and Namibia) where cheetahs still enjoy large populations.

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What family does the Cheetah belong to ?

The Cheetah is a feline, like the tiger, the lion or the lynx but his particular characteristics inspired scientists to create a sub-family, or genus, of which he is the only member : Acinonychinae. His scientific name is thus : Acinonyx jubatus. With respect to his name in English, « Cheetah » comes from the Sanskrit word meaning «variegated body ».

How should we describe him ?

The cheetah is a mammel which resembles a cat, only much larger. He is lanky, and seen head-on, it looks as if he has been flattened, because he is so thin. When looking at his profile, one observes his head at one end of his body – appearing almost too small with respect to the rest of his body, and at the other end, his long tail. His thorax, or chest, is as wide as his waist and narrow. The cheetah’s large paws afford him a slender but majestic gait, and end in semi-retractable claws, just like with other cat-like species.

His magnificant short fur which has caused him some serious troubles (We will come back to this later) is yellowish tan in colour and covered by black spots. He has a unique face with two black lines, which seem almost designed, running from the corners of his eyes down the sides of his nose like two eternal tears.

Mister and Missus Cheetah do not weigh the same, the male being heavier and larger than the female. At adulthood, their size varies from 35 to 70 kilos and they range from 1.15 to 1.50 in total body length, not including the tail, which measures an average of 75 cm.

A magnificant creature designed for speed

How long does the Cheetah live ?

Everything depends on the environment in which he is found. In the wild, he will live an average of 12 years but in captivity, he can expect to double his life expectancy to 20 years.

Why does he run so quickly ?

Everything about him is designed for speed, including his soft bone structure which allows for enormous strides measuring up to 8 metres, his long tail which serves as a rudder for steering when running at full speed, his heart which is able pump great quantities of blood and his large nostrils which allow for increased oxygen intake. Also, the cheetah’s large arteries are designed for effective blood circulation, while his powerful paws have a unique ligament structure – all allowing him to reach a maximum speed in less than 4 seconds ! At four strides per second, certain subspecies move at a rate of that exceeds 120 kilometres/hour.

It is quite simply the fastest land animal in the world !

However, this unique capacity has its price to pay, as the Cheetah is not able to keep up this performance for more than a few hundred meters, at which point he must slow down and catch his breath for several minutes. At full speed, his respiratory rate reaches 100 breaths per minute, that is, more than one breath per second. His attacks must therefore be effective and sudden, which is why he does not strike until he is very close to his prey (within a range of a dozen or so meters). It is also interesting to note that the Cheetah is able to successfully conclude half of all his hunts, which is really quite remarkable.