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Cheetah

Status

Protected species in Namibia. Endangered under the United States Endangered Species Act. List on CITES Appendix I

Description

The cheetah has a slender, long-legged body with blunt semi-retractile claws. Its coat is tan with small, round, black spots, and the fur is coarse and short. The cheetah has a small head with high-set eyes. Black "tear marks," which run from the corner of its eyes down the sides of the nose to its mouth, keep the sun out of its eyes, and aid in hunting.

Size

Adult body length 112-135 cm; tail length 66-84 cm; shoulder height 73+ cm; weight 34-54 kg. The male is slightly larger than the female.

Specializations

The cheetah's flexible spine, oversized liver, enlarged heart, wide nostrils, increased lung capacity, and thin muscular body make this cat the swiftest hunter in Africa. Covering 7-8 meters in a stride, with only one foot touching the ground at a time, the cheetah can reach a speed of 110 km/h in seconds. At two points in the stride, no feet touch the ground. Habitat Cheetahs thrive in areas with vast expanses of land where prey is abundant. In Namibia cheetahs have been found in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, savannahs, dense vegetation, and mountainous terrain. Ninety-five percent live on commercial farms.

Range

Once found throughout Asia and Africa, the species is now only scattered in Iran and various countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Home ranges in Namibia for males can be up to 1500 square km and for females, 1200-1500 square km.

Behavior

Cheetahs have a unique, well-structured social order. Females live alone except when they are raising cubs. The females raise the cubs on their own. The first 18 months of a cub's life are important - cubs learn many lessons because survival depends on knowing how to hunt wild prey species and avoid other predators such as leopards, lions, hyenas, and baboons. At 18 months, the mother leaves the cubs, who then form a sibling group, that will stay together for another 6 months. At about 2 years, the female siblings leave the group, and the young males remain together for life. Males live alone or in coalitions made up of brothers from the same litter. Some coalitions maintain territories in order to find females with which they will mate. Territories are often located in areas where there is a rich supply of wild game and/or water. Fierce fights between male coalitions, resulting in serious injury or death, can occur when defending territories.

Cheetahs hunt in the late morning and early evening. They capture their prey by stalking - until they prey is within 10-30 meters - before chasing. The prey is suffocated when a cheetahs bites the underside of the throat. Chases last about 20 seconds, and rarely longer then 1 minute. About half of the chases are successful. In Namibia, cheetahs use playtrees (trees with sloping trunks and large horizontal limbs, usually camelthorns) to observe their surroundings and mark the area. Cheetahs make chirping sounds, and hiss or spit when angered or threatened. They purr very loudly when content.

Reproduction

Sexual maturity occurs at 20-23 months. The gestation period is about 95 days, and the average litter size is 4-5 cubs. Cubs are smoky-grey in color with long hair, called a mantle, running along their backs; they are up to 30 cm long and weigh 250-300 grams at birth. The mantle has several purposes: it is thought to camouflage the cub in dead grass, hiding it from predators, and to work as a mimicry defense, causing the cub to resemble a honey badger (ratel).

Population

About 12,400 cheetah remain in 25 African countries, and maybe 100-200 cats survive in Iran. Namibia has the world's largest number of cheetahs, yet only 2,500 remain in the wild.

Life Expectancy

Studies have not been conducted in the wild on longevity; 8-12 years is average in captivity. Cub mortality is high for the species in both the wild and captivity. An average 30 percent of all cubs born in captivity die within one month of birth, and in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, about 90 percent die before reaching the 3 months of age.

Diet

Small antelope, young of large antelope, warthog, hare, and game birds. Natural History Cheetahs have been kept in captivity for some 5,000 years. However, they breed poorly, and the captive population has been maintained through wild collection. Cheetahs suffer from a lack of genetic diversity making them more susceptible to disease and decreasing reproduction. The many parks and reserves of Africa offer protection for only a small amount of cheetahs. In these parks, lion and hyena numbers increase, and the cheetahs cannot compete with these large predators which kill cheetah cubs and steal their prey. Evolution has favored speed, and not strength for this species.

Survival Threats

Decline in prey, loss of habitat, poaching, and indiscriminate trapping and shooting as a livestock predator threaten the survival of the cheetah throughout its range.

Legal Protection

As a protected species in Namibia, people are allowed to remove cheetahs only if they pose a threat to livestock or human life. Unfortunately, some farmers will capture cheetahs indiscriminately (the "problem" animals may not be singled out), often removing or killing those that have not taken any livestock. Limited international trade in live animals and skins is permitted from Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Illegal trade in other parts of Africa and indiscriminate capture and removal in southern Africa continue to threaten the survival of this species.

Conservation

To help this sleek hunter of the African wild win its race against extinction, we must: 1. Help protect its habitat and ensure a place for it on Namibian farmlands 2. Aid in the conservation of the wild prey base 3. Halt the indiscriminate capture and removal of the cheetah 4. Improve livestock management 5. Educate everyone about the need to conserve biological diversity, and the predators' unique role in a healthy ecosystem.

Captivity

CHEETAHS ARE WILD ANIMALS. Capture of wild cheetahs threatens the survival of the species in two ways. First, the removal of individuals reduce the species' genetic diversity in the wild. And secondly, cheetahs do not breed well in captivity. The Asian cheetah is nearly extinct because of its capture for private use. Special dietary requirements, special needs, and unpredictable behavior make this a poor pet. Wild instincts remain intact even with tamed and captive-raised animals.

Source: cheetah.org



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