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Cheetah: Fatal Instinct Facts

A cheetah family enjoy the evening sun - soon they will look for a safe place to sleep. The night is the time of lions, leopards and hyenas.

A cheetah family enjoy the evening sun - soon they will look for a safe place to sleep. The night is the time of lions, leopards and hyenas. (View larger version)

Photograph by NDR Naturfilm

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  • The Latin name of cheetahs Acinonyx jubatus is linked to the fact that these cats have semi-retractable claws. Their claws are short and quite blunt and help the cheetah grip the ground when running. Only their dewclaws are sharp and these claws are used to hook prey.

  • Today cheetahs live almost entirely in Africa. The Asiatic subspecies Acinonyx jubatus venaticus was once spread as far as India, but has shrunken to tiny populations in the Mid-East.

  • Cheetahs live only on open plains and savannahs. They avoid thick forests as they cannot gain enough speed to hunt their prey .

  • Cheetahs are known to be the fastest land mammals on the planet and are capable of going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just 3 seconds, though they can only maintain these high speeds for short periods.

  • Cheetahs mainly feed on smaller prey such as hares, gazelles and young wildebeest. Male cheetahs who hunt in a teams also attack adult wildebeest, zebras and adult ostriches.

  • Female cheetahs live a solitary life and are only accompanied by their young. They move through huge areas of up to 800 square kilometres (300 square miles).

  • Male cheetahs defend territories and attempt to mate with females that pass through their territories (10). In Serengeti National Park, the average size of territories defended by coalitions of male cheetahs is about 37 square kilometres (~14 square miles). Often several males cooperate to chase rivals away.

  • Male cheetahs groups are often formed by brothers but sometime non-related individuals bond together and build a coalition.

  • In the Massai Mara Reserve in Kenya a group of three brothers (now two after the death of one male) defends a territory of about 300 square kilometres (115 square miles).

  • The cubs are born blind and helpless in a lair. The mother stays with them most of the time and only leaves them to hunt. When the cubs are 6-8 weeks they start to follow their mother.

  • The life of a young cheetah is dangerous, losses are high. Especially lions but also leopards and hyenas kill the cubs. In the Serengeti in Tanzania only 5% of the cheetah cubs reach adulthood.

  • When young cheetahs are about 14-18 months old, their mother leaves them to mate again.

  • Cheetahs have relatively small teeth and jaws compared to other big cats and cannot defend their kills from being stolen by stronger predators like lions.

  • Lion prides are usually controlled by a coalition of 2-3 males. If a new coalition of males conquers a pride, they usually kills all the lion cubs in the pride because female lions with cubs under 18 months will not mate. Female lions that lose their cubs soon become receptive to mating again.

  • In the Massai Mara Reserve an unusual fast rotation of the leading male lions lead to the loss of all lion cubs in several prides over a couple of years. As a result the numbers of lions dropped dramatically.

  • Solitary lionesses, so called nomads, have a difficult time raising their cubs without the protection of a pride. So every male they encounter is a deadly threat to their offspring.

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