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Cheetah
Status Vulnerable
Diet Carnivore
Habitat
Fame
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Description

  • The cheetah is a member of the cat family and one of the fastest land animals in the world. A cheetah can accelerate to a running speed of 93 km/h (58 mph) in just two to three seconds, sustaining that speed for up to 300 m (1,000 ft). Until about 100 years ago cheetahs were found in open habitats throughout Africa, the Middle East, and southwest Asia as far as central India. Excessive hunting and habitat destruction have reduced the cheetah's range to isolated parts of Africa south of the Sahara, where around 10,000 cheetahs now live. Fewer than 100 cheetahs remain in remote areas of Iran.
  • Until recently this fastest of land mammals dashed after its prey across savannahs and semideserts throughout Africa and western and central Asia. Now the cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, verges on extinction in Asia and is dwindling in much of Africa. Why? Some biologists believe today's cheetahs are simply too inbred to thrive, being descended from a few survivors of a crisis that almost wiped the species out some 10,000 years ago. But other scientists dispute this bottleneck theory and maintain that the genetic uniformity of the cheetah has not led to any constitutional weakness. The real agents behind the decline of the species, they say, are the ranchers and farmers who persecute cheetahs as vermin and encroach on their remaining habitat.
  • Scientists classify the cheetah in its own genus because of its physical distinctiveness from other cats, although genetic studies suggest that the cheetah may share a common ancestor with the North American puma. Fossil evidence shows that cheetahs may have originated in North America as early as 3 million years ago and then spread into Eurasia and Africa. Scientists theorize that around 12,000 years ago a significant climate change caused a rapid decline in the cheetah population, with only a small group of cheetahs surviving in Eurasia. Inbreeding (mating between close relatives) likely occurred as this tiny population slowly grew over generations. As a result of this inbreeding, today's cheetahs lack genetic variation, which may make them less able to adapt to changes in the environment, such as infectious disease or a climate change. Overhunting and habitat destruction place cheetahs at high risk for extinction. Farmers often kill cheetahs to prevent them from threatening their livestock. Scientists have developed breeding programs intended to provide insurance against their extinction in the wild, and they are working with local communities in Africa to reduce conflicts between people and cheetahs.
  • Scientists primarily study cheetahs in the wild by using radio tracking, in which a collar with a radio transmitter attached is placed around the neck of a cheetah. Scientists monitor the radio transmissions as the cheetah travels in order to track the cat's whereabouts and learn about its life history and behaviors. Some scientists also keep a photographic archive of individuals within a population. They are able to distinguish one cheetah from another by a distinctive pattern of rings on the tail. This photographic record helps scientists monitor individual cheetahs over the course of their lives.

Fun Facts

  • The cheetah is one of the fastest land animals. It can reach a top speed of 58 mph (93 km/h) in 2 to 3 seconds, and maintain it for 1,000 ft (300 m).
  • The cheetah's long tail acts as a balance and aids in high-speed turns.
  • A cheetah's footpads have grooves for better traction at high speeds.
  • When communicating with one another, cheetahs do not roar; instead they make a variety of vocalizations, including purrs, bleats, barks, and chirps, that sound remarkably like those of a bird.

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