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Cat Wars: Lion vs. Cheetah Facts

Lioness walks through the marsh grass.

Lioness walks through the marsh grass. (View larger version)

Photograph by Robert Caputo

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  • Hunting and habitat loss have cut cheetah numbers to critical levels. Where just a century ago, there were over 100,000 cheetahs on the continent of Africa, now there are not much more than 7,000.

  • Cheetahs have disappeared from more than 2/3 of their historic range on the continent of Africa, and the remaining cats are sparsely dispersed and under tremendous human pressure.

  • In Asia, the cheetah is critically endangered. Hunting, loss of habit and loss of prey have extirpated the species from nearly all of its vast Asian range, which once extended from the shores of the Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula, north to the northern shores of the Caspian and Aral Seas, and west through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan into central India. Today, the Asian cheetah survives only in Iran, where a small population of perhaps 60 clings to existence in a reserve.

  • The Serengeti population of cheetahs is one of the big cat's last strongholds. Together the Serengeti, Mara and Tsavo parks in Kenya and Tanzania contain a estimated population of 710.

  • A cheetah-like cat evolved on the prairies of North America about 3.2 million years ago, but died out around 10,000 years ago. Some scientists speculate that the pronghorn, the second fastest land animal, evolved its speed to escape this North American cat, in addition to wolves, coyotes and other predators.

  • About 10,000 years ago, cheetahs almost died out. Only a small group of closely-related animals survived this evolutionary bottleneck. Their offspring –all the cheetahs of the world – are strikingly similar genetically, practically clones.

  • Cheetahs are the worlds fastest land animal, sprinting to a top speed of over 65 mph. Except for an extinct European cousin, cheetahs are probably the fastest terrestrial mammal that has ever lived.

  • As a cheetah races at top speed, the temperature of its body approaches dangerous, near-deadly levels.

  • Even short-distance sprints exhaust the cheetah, and it typically rests, catching its breath and cooling off, for at least half an hour after making a difficult kill.

  • Scent marking is a highly important form of communication between male and female cheetahs. Trees are important spots to leave those scents in the form of urine markings.

  • Farmers in Namibia often catch cheetahs by placing traps at the base of highly-visited trees.

  • Lions have experienced tragic decline in the last half century. Where once there were 450,000 lions on the continent of Africa, now there may be fewer than 20,000.

  • Lions are usually thought of as African animals, but that's only because they've been killed off everywhere else they roamed. On sub-species of that globe-spanning lion -- the Asian lion – is all that's left outside of Africa. Only about 300 remain, all in one reserve in India.

  • An adult lion can eat about 100 pounds of meat in a single sitting.

  • The roar of an adult male lion can be heard up to 5 miles away.

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