From a standing start, a cheetah can accelerate to 45 miles per hour in just two seconds! Click on the icons below to learn where cheetahs live, what they eat, how they hunt and how they reproduce. You can even pet a cheetah in Zoobooks Virtual Zoo!
Cheetahs are the fastest land animals on earth. For short spurts, they can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. Even more amazing, cheetahs can build up speed, or accelerate, at an incredible rate. From a standing start, a cheetah can accelerate to 45 miles per hour in just two seconds! Most racing cars can’t do that. Everything about cheetahs is built for speed—from their long legs and springy backbones to their streamlined, muscular bodies. Unlike other big cats, cheetahs rely on speed rather than strength to survive.
Cheetahs hunt almost completely by sight. After spotting a herd from a termite mound or other high point, a victim is singled out and the chase is on. Cheetahs are fast, but they cannot maintain their top speed for long. If the prey animal gets enough of a head start, its better endurance may help it to escape. Even when hunts are successful, a cheetah is so exhausted afterward that it may be 30 minutes before it can actually eat, and this leaves its meal vulnerable to lions and other predators. Because competition for food is so intense, adult cheetahs usually hunt alone.
Cheetahs prefer to eat impalas, gazelles, and other small antelope. When antelope is scarce, however, they will eat other foods. A hungry cheetah may go after birds, hares, lizards, and frogs. Even bird eggs and fruit can be a part of a cheetah’s diet.
A cheetah mother is very devoted to her cubs. Because she has no help in protecting her young, she rarely lets them out of her sight. For two years, young cubs do everything with their mother and littermates. They rarely squabble, and spend hours every day grooming each other. When the mother has taught them to be successful hunters, the entire litter leaves her as a group. Some months later, the female cubs leave their brothers—and the cheetahs begin their solitary lives.
Cheetah ancestors roamed all over Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa. Today, cheetahs can be found only in Africa and, in small numbers, in Asia. They prefer woodlands and the open plains, where they can chase their prey at top speed.
Scientists believe the number of cheetahs on earth has never been very great. Today, with the vast ranges of Africa and Asia shrinking, cheetahs need our help. One of the keys to their survival lies in human efforts to breed them in captivity. Scientists hope that what they learn with captive cheetahs will help to assure a future for cheetahs in the wild.