Height: 36 inches
Length: 72 inches
Weight: 100 lbs
Gestation: 91 - 95 days
Offspring: 2 - 5
Life Span: 15 - 20 years
Top Speed (Ground): 71 mph
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The cheetah is most famous for its speed. It is the world's fastest land animal, having been known to run at speeds up to 70 mph. However, it is able to sustain this pace for only a short period of time. In order to be able to move this quickly, the cheetah has a slender body, a small head, and long legs that allow it to travel about 24 feet in a single stride when running. It weighs between 90 and 140 pounds, stands at about 36 inches tall, and measures 72 inches in length. Not only is the cheetah's physical shape designed for speed, but it has other special features as well. For instance, the spine of the cheetah is flexible enough to act as a spring when the cheetah runs. It also is the only cat without retractable claws. This allows the claws to always be exposed, acting like cleats when the cheetah is running. The tail is also designed to help maintain balance at high speeds and during quick turns. Other features of the cheetah include its tan coat with many small, round black spots and black tear-shaped marks around the eyes. In fact, the name "cheetah" has its origins in the Hindu word "chita", meaning "the spotted one."
The cheetah eats gazelles, young antelope, young calves, warthogs, hares, and game birds. They typically stalk their prey until they are only 30 to 90 feet away. They then burst into a chase that lasts about 20 seconds. The cheetah successfully catches its prey in about half of the chases.
Cheetahs prefer grasslands where they have plenty of room to chase and capture their prey. They once roamed in most of the open area of Africa, in the grasslands of India, southern Russia, Iran, and Pakistan. Today, however, most cheetahs are found natively only in eastern and southern Africa. In fact, almost all are raised on commercial farms.
Of all the big cats, cheetahs have the least strength. As a result, cheetah cubs are killed by larger predators like the lion and hyena. Up to 80% of the cubs are killed by lions. The cheetah compensates for this by having many offspring. For the cubs that survive, the life span is up to 12 years.
Female cheetahs typically live alone and are not territorial. Males form coalitions of 2 to 4 members. This helps them defend territories for hunting and mating. Fierce fights can occur between rival coalitions as a result of a territorial dispute. Young cubs stay with their mother, who raises them by herself for the first 18 months. She then leaves the cubs, which stay together for about 6 more months before breaking up. Male siblings will stay together for life.
Unlike most cats, cheetahs breed throughout the year without a regular breeding season. After a gestation period of 90 to 95 days, a litter of 1 to 8 cubs will be born. The average litter is 4 or 5 cubs. The cubs weigh about half a pound, have no teeth, and their eyes are closed. They also have a blue-gray mane on their backs, aiding in camouflage. Males to not take part in raising the cubs. The mother raises them on her own.
Cheetahs do not roar like lions and tigers. Instead, they make chirping sounds and hiss when angered or threatened. When alarmed, they whine or growl. They purr loudly when content. They do not roar.
The cats have a good sense of smell and communicate by scenting tree trunks, bushes and termite mounds with their waste.