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The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is a large feline inhabiting most of Africa and parts of Iran and is the only living member of the genus Acinonyx. The cheetah is a sleek and beautiful cat that is recognised as the fastest mammal on earth, hitting speeds of up to 75 mph and it also has the ability to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just three seconds.

The cheetah can often be confused with the leopard but physically it is much smaller and has a smaller head with high-set eyes. Males tend to be slightly larger than females and have slightly bigger heads, but there is not a great variation in cheetah sizes and it is therefore sometimes difficult to tell males and females apart by appearance alone. The cheetah also has a shorter body that the leopard, can be a a bit taller and has a longer tail. It then has distinctive black “tear marks” that run from the corner of its eyes down the sides of the nose to its mouth. This marking helps to get direct sunlight out of its eyes and thus aids in hunting and seeing long distances. Its thin and fragile body make it well-suited to short bursts of high speed, but not to long-distance running. With its speed and agility the cheetah’s main hunting strategy is to run down swift prey such as various antelope species and hares. Over time the cat’s anatomy has evolved to maximise its success of hunting, although the cheetah is poorly equipped to defend itself against other large predators, with speed being its main means of defence.

The cheetah is considered the smallest of the big cats. However, unlike other big cats, the cheetah can purr but cannot roar, whilst the other big cats can roar but cannot purr!

In the wild, the cheetah is a prolific breeder, with females giving birth of up to nine cubs in a litter. However, the majority of these cubs do not survive to adulthood, mainly as a result predation by other cats etc.

Some cheetahs have a rare fur pattern mutation of larger, blotchy, merged spots, which is the result of a single recessive gene. These are classified as “King cheetahs”.

The cheetah is listed as a vulnerable specie, with its major threats being competition with other predators, predation by the other carnivores, a gene pool with very low variability as is the least able of the big cats to adapt to new environments, and persecution by mankind.

THE BEST PLACES TO SEE CHEETAH IN THE WILD

AfricaOkavango Delta (Botswana), Kruger National Park (South Africa), Phinda Game Reserve (South Africa), Masai Mara (Kenya), Masai Mara (Kenya), The Serengeti (Tanzania), Etosha National Park (Namibia), South Luangwa (Zambia)