Description of Acinonyx jubatus
In Africa, Southern and Eastern Africa are the species strongholds, but there has been significant range loss across all regions. In Eastern Africa Cheetahs are known to occur in only 6% of their historical range in (310,586 km2), and possibly occur in another 892,658 km (IUCN/SSC 2007a). Significant Cheetah range occurs in the transboundary areas between northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. Almost the entire southern boundary of Ethiopia is recorded as resident Cheetah range with connectivity into South Sudan and this population almost certainly extends into northern Kenya. Important subpopulations of Cheetah survive elsewhere in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as in South Sudan and northern Uganda but are notably fragmented across the region. Their status in Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan is unknown.
In southern Africa Cheetahs are known to occur in 22% of their historical range (1,223,388 km2), and possibly occur in another 403,627 km2 (IUCN SSC in prep.). Most of the Cheetahs surviving in this region are in a single transboundary population stretching across Namibia, Botswana, south-western Angola, northern South Africa, south-western Mozambique and southern Zambia. Important populations also survive elsewhere in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique (IUCN SSC 2007b, Purchase et al. 2007). There are some reliable observations of cheetah from south-eastern Angola (Anon. 2010), close to the Namibia and Zambia borders. Cheetahs have been extirpated from Malawi (Purchase and Purchase 2007).
Cheetahs have declined particularly markedly in western, central and northern Africa (IUCN SSC 2012, Durant et al. 2014). The subspecies found in northwest Africa, A. j. hecki, is listed as Critically Endangered; see subspecies account for detailed information. Cheetah now occur in 10% of their historical range (1,053,746 km2), and possibly occur in another 920,520 km2. Much of this range is within the Sahara, where Cheetah occur at very low densities, estimated as 2.3 individuals per 10,000 km2 (Belbachir et al. 2015). There are five known Cheetah subpopulations in this region (IUCN SSC 2012): south-central Algeria, stretching through to north-eastern Mali, and possibly into western Libya (Belbachir et al. 2015); two connected subpopulations around the Termit massif in Niger; the WAP complex of protected areas in northern Benin, south-eastern Burkina Faso and south-western Niger; and south-eastern Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic (CAR). Cheetah have been extirpated from their historical range in Western Sahara, Senegal, Nigeria, Mauritania, Tunisia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, DRC and Ghana. The last reliable Cheetah sighting in Cameroon was in the 1970s (de Iongh et al. 2011), and no tracks were found in an extensive search of the Benoue Complex in 2007 and 2010, which was their last refuge in the country (Croes et al. 2011). Recent extensive surveys for Lion in the best protected areas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria found no evidence of Cheetah (Henschel et al. 2014a, b). It is also unlikely any Cheetah survive in Egypt. Reports from hunters suggest that cheetah may persist in south-western Libya (IUCN SSC 2012), but the status of Cheetah from much of southern Libya, northern Niger, Chad and CAR remains unknown.
In Asia, the Cheetah has been extirpated from nearly all of its range. Its historic range 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 (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Habibi 2003, Mallon 2007). One reason for their extirpation across most of their Asian range is thought to have been the live capture of cheetahs, which were then trained to hunt deer and gazelle as sport for the aristocracy (Divyabhanusingh 1995). Other key causes of the disappearance of Cheetah from the region are likely to have been depletion of wild prey, especially gazelles, the direct killing of Cheetahs, and anthropogenic change and fragmentation of their habitat (Mallon 2007). The Asiatic Cheetah (A. j. venaticus) is now known to survive only in Iran, where it is Critically Endangered. Persistence in Pakistan is unlikely (Husain 2001). Habibi (2003) considers it extinct in Afghanistan, although a Cheetah skin of unknown origin was found in a marketplace in western Afghanistan in 2007 (L. Hunter pers. comm.). More detail can be found in the subspecies account for A. j. venaticus.
The historic distribution of cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) is very wide. It ranged from Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula to Tajikistan and central India, as well as throughout the continent of Africa excluding the zones of tropical forest and central Sahara. This range might include the arid and semiarid habitats of the regions of south, east, and north Africa and less arid areas of India, Turkmenistan, Syria, Palestine, and Arabia. In regions of Africa and Asia, European settlers treated cheetahs as vermin to be eradicated. The range of cheetahs was greatly reduced by the 1970s, and surveys conducted before 2005 indicate that the cheetah is present in 25 countries on the African continent.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native )
- Caro, T. 1994. Cheetahs of the Serengeti Plains: group living in an asocial species. Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
- Eaton, R. 1982. The cheetah: the biology, ecology, and behavior of an endangered species. Malabra, Florida: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company.
- Kitchener, A. 1991. The natural history of the wild cats. London, United Kingdom.: Christopher Helm, A. and C. Black.
- Krausman, P., S. Morales. 2005. Acinonyx jubatus. Mammalian Species, 771: 1-6.
- Myers, N. 1975. The cheetah Acinonyx jubatus in Africa. International Union of the Conservation of Nature, 4: 9–90.
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker’s mammals of the world, 6th edition. Baltimore, Maryland: .Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Roosevelt, T. 1910. African Game Trails; an Account of the Wanderings of a Hunter-naturalist. New York, New York: New York Syndicate.
- Turner, A. 1997. The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives. New York: Columbia University Press.
Distribution in Egypt
Localized (Qattara depression and neighboring desert)
Africa to India
Cheetahs are slim and have relatively long legs in relation to their body size when compared with other cats, with a small, rounded head and short ears. Their monomorphic pelage is pale yellow, gray, or fawn on dorsal surfaces, and is speckled with small, round, unarranged black spots throughout the body and set closely together. The ventral surfaces are paler than the dorsal, often white or a light tan. The fur is coarse to the touch with a slight mane of longer hair on the nape. Their faces are distinctly marked with a black lachrymal stripe from the anterior corner of the eye alongside the length of the muzzle. The eyes of adults and cubs have circular pupils when contracted and relaxed. The ears are small and rounded, with lightly colored inner fur in contrast to the posterior side, which has a black patch within the main dorsal color of the individual. Their tails are spotted above with a background the main dorsal color of the individual, and the ventral surface is the same paler color as the main ventral color. The posterior third of the tail has a series of dark or black rings terminating in a white tip. The paws of cheetahs are narrow in comparison to other cats. The front paws have four toes and a dewclaw, and the hind paws have four toes. The claws are slightly curved and blunted from contact with the ground, as cheetahs have weakly retractile claws with no protective skin folds.
Body lengths of cheetahs range from 112 to 150 cm. Tail lengths are between 60 and 80 cm and the height at the shoulder is 67 to 94 cm. The weights of cheetahs range from 21 to 72 kg, with the average male larger than the average female. Cheetah skulls are short and broad, above the muzzle and cranium they are highly raised and vaulted. Nasal openings are dorsally broad and enlarged, with the bony plate extending well behind the molars. Nasal passages are large in comparison with other cats. Young cubs have a pronounced mane that extends over the head, neck, and back, and is distinctly lighter shade, often looking gray, white or bluish-gray. The long, woolly mane of cubs is thought to make them less conspicuous to predators. Despite the long fur of cubs, spots are consistently visible on the underfur. Cubs gradually lose their mane until they are adolescent.
In 1927, an additional species of cheetahs was described as king cheetahs (Acinonyx rex). The specimens differed from other cheetahs having longer and softer fur and deviations from the typical spotted pattern. King cheetahs had dark bars in addition to spots on the typical yellow pelage. Fourteen skins were recorded from the wild in Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso. It is now accepted that these individuals are an atypical phenotype of cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) with a slight melanistic trend. Individuals with king cheetah markings have been bred from captive cheetahs with otherwise typical litters. Little information is available for other phenotypic variations. Albanism and melanism have been well documented in other species of cat, including the tiger, the African lion, the leopard, and the jaguar.
Range mass: 21 to 72 kg.
Range length: 112 to 150 cm.
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average basal metabolic rate: 61.77 W.
- Cuvier, , Geroges, Baron. 1978. The Class Mammalia volume 2. Washington, DC: Arno Press Inc..
- Lydekker, R. 1895. A handbook to the Carnivora, Part I: Cats, civets, and mungooses. London, United Kingdom: W. H. Allen and Company.
Kalahari Acacia-baikaiea Woodlands
The Tsodilo thick-toed gecko (Pachydactylus tsodiloensis), is a strict endemic of the Kalahari acacia-baikaiea woodlands ecoregion. It is found only on the Tsodilo Hills in the northwest of the ecoregion. This Kalahari woodland supports a rich and diverse fauna, including a variety of ungulates and a number of threatened large mammalian taxa. The climate of the ecoregion is semi-arid, with droughts occurring on a seven-year cycle. To the south of the ecoregion, where the climate becomes more arid, the sandveld vegetation grades into the sparse, shrubby, Acacia-dominated Kalahari Xeric savanna ecoregion. To the north, the climate becomes moister and the vegetation grades into a mesic savanna or woodland dominated by Baikiaea plurijuga, the Zambezian Baikiaea woodland ecoregion.
The ecoregion supports many of the charismatic large mammals associated with African savannas. While these species are not endemic, several are listed as threatened by the IUCN, including the critically endangered Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), and two species listed as vulnerable, the Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and the Brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea). Predators range from smaller species such as African civet (Civettictis civetta) and Serval (Felis serval) to Lion (Panthera leo), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Painted hunting dog (Lycaon pictus) and both Brown and Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). Many of the large herbivores found in the ecoregion undertake seasonal migrations, especially during droughts. Blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), eland (Taurotragus oryx), zebra (Equus burchelli), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), and Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) all migrate within this ecoregion.
The ecoregion has a rich and colourful avian fauna, with 468 species recorded to date. Bradfield’s hornbill (Tockus bradfieldi) is one of only two species considered near-endemic to this ecoregion, found in the north of the ecoregion, the Okavango Alluvial Fan, and northwest Zimbabwe, where it is utilises Baikiaea and mixed Mopane woodlands. The Blackfaced babbler (Turdoides melanops) is the other near-endemic, found in the area west of the Okavango Alluvial Fan and extending into Namibia. It inhabits the understory of broad-leafed and mixed Acacia woodlands. The lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotus), is considered vulnerable and is found throughout the ecoregion.
There are 31 amphibian and 92 reptile species found within the ecoregion. None of the amphibian species is endemic or near-endemic, but six of the reptile species are near-endemic, and one, the Tsodilo thick-toed gecko (Pachydactylus tsodiloensis), is a strict endemic. It is found only on the Tsodilo Hills in the northwest of the ecoregion. Near-endemic reptilians include Kalahari purple-glossed snake (Amblyodipsas ventrimaculata), Kalahari ground gecko (Colopus wahlbergii), and Leonard’s spade-snouted worm lizard (Monopeltis leonhardi).
- A. Campbell. 1990. The nature of Botswana: a guide to conservation and development. IUCN, Harare, Zimbabwe. ISBN: 2880329345
- World Wildlife Fund & C.MIchael Hogan. 2015. Kalahari Acacia-baikaiea Woodlands. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and Environment. Washington DC
Habitat and Ecology
Cheetahs are the fastest land mammals, and have been documented as reaching speeds up to 103 km per hour (29 meters per second) (Sharp 1997). However, in real hunting situations, where Cheetah may be slowed down because of weaving prey and the need to circumvent obstacles, actual speeds may be much lower than this (Wilson et al. 2013a, b). Cheetahs make use of their high speeds to catch their prey, but they are unable to sustain top speeds for much more than a few hundreds of metres. They take a wide variety of prey, principally small- to mid-sized ungulates, especially gazelle, kob and impala. But their prey can range from ground-dwelling birds and small mammals, such as hares, up to large ungulates such as wildebeest, kudu or eland (Purchase and du Toit 2000, Broomhall et al. 2003, Mills et al. 2004, Cooper et al. 2007, Hilborn et al. 2012). In Iran opportunistic recovery of Cheetah kills and analysis of scat suggests that gazelle, wild sheep Ovis orientalis, Persian Bbex Capra aegagrus and Cape Hares Lepus capensis are key prey species, although livestock comprises a substantial proportion of the diet (Hunter et al. 2007c, Farhadinia et al. 2012).
Cheetahs, unlike many other African predators, rarely scavenge. In areas with high densities of large carnivore competitors, cheetah can lose up to around 10% of their kills to kleptoparasitism, particularly to lions and spotted hyaenas (Hunter et al. 2007a), and tend not to remain long with their kills, abandoning the carcass once they have eaten their fill (Hunter et al. 2007b). They also tend to be primarily active during the day, a strategy that may help to reduce competition (Caro 1994). There is some evidence that nocturnal activity is linked to the lunar cycle (Broekhuis et al. 2014), consistent with a hypothesis that the need to use visual cues to avoid competitors is a key driver of diurnal behaviour. In contrast, in areas where competition is less fierce, such as South African farmland and the Sahara, Cheetah have been recorded as being primarily nocturnal (Marnewick et al. 2006, Belbachir et al. 2015), although it is difficult to know whether this is due to a lower number of competitors or an increase in human activity in these areas.
Cheetahs have a social organization that is unique among felids (Durant et al. 2007, Durant et al. 2010b). Females are solitary or accompanied by dependent young, and males are either solitary or live in stable coalitions of two or three (Caro 1994, Broomhall et al. 2003, Marnewick et al. 2006). Most coalitions consist of brothers, but unrelated males may also be members of the group (Caro and Collins 1987). Unlike the coalitions formed by male lions, where a single male from the coalition will guard and mate with a female throughout oestrus, female Cheetahs appear to mate with as many males as possible, and show no mate fidelity (Gottelli et al. 2007).
In areas where prey is migratory (such as the Serengeti Plains), female Cheetahs follow the herds, while male coalitions establish small territories (average 30 km2) which are centred on areas attractive to females (Durant et al. 1988, Caro 1994). However, in areas where prey is non-migratory, male and females may have overlapping ranges that can be more similar in size (Broomhall et al. 2003). On Namibian farmlands, where prey is also non-migratory, both Cheetah sexes have very large home ranges (average 1,642 km2); however, intensively used core areas were just 14% of the total home range. The reasons for such large home ranges are unclear, and were apparently not the result of reduced prey availability (Marker 2002). It has been hypothesised that the Cheetahs unique social system and ranging patterns originally evolved as a strategy to remain mobile in the presence of larger and stronger competitors, enabling the species to avoid direct competition in a spatio-temporal heterogeneous landscape (Durant 1998, 2000a, b). This is supported by recent evidence of risk avoidance by cheetah in Botswana and South Africa (Broekhuis et al. 2013, Rostro-Garcia et al. 2015).
In the wild Cheetah have been recorded as living a maximum of 14 years and five months for females and 10 years for males, however females have not been recorded as having cubs beyond 12 years (Durant et al. 2010b). Cheetahs give birth to their first litter at two years after a three-month gestation (Caro 1994). The cubs are kept in a lair for the first two months of their life, during which time their mother leaves to hunt every morning and returns at dusk (Laurenson 1994). Cheetah cub mortality can be high. In the Serengeti 95% of cubs died before independence, mostly because of predation (Laurenson 1994, 1995). Most of this mortality happened in the first few months, and mothers were able to conceive quickly after losing their cubs (Laurenson et al. 1992). Elsewhere cub mortality is reported to be nowhere much lower, although information on survivorship during the denning period is rarely available. In the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park cub survival from birth to independence was 35.7%, substantially higher than that found in the Serengeti, but most of the mortality could also be ascribed to predation (Mills and Mills 2014). Lions, Spotted Hyaenas and Leopards are key predators of Cheetah cubs, although smaller predators such as Honey Badgers, jackals and Secretary Birds also play a role.
If cubs survive, they will stay with their mother for an average of 18 months, after which they will roam with their littermates for a further six months (Caro 1994). At this time, females split from their siblings and go on to produce their first litter, while surviving males will stay together for life. Single males may meet and join up with unrelated males to form a coalition. In the Serengeti mean annual mortality for females and males is respectively 0.32 and 0.61 for 1-2 year olds; and 0.15 and 0.31 for adults (Durant et al. 2004). On Namibian farmlands, adult mortality is similar to that in the Serengeti, but mortality of juveniles is much lower, probably due to the lack of other large predators (Marker et al. 2003c, Durant et al. 2004). It is difficult to discern the causes of mortality, but in the Serengeti adult Cheetahs have been killed by Lions; by their prey when hunting; and one individual died from encephalitis (Durant et al. 2010b). Male cheetahs are killed by other males, probably during territorial disputes (Caro 1994).
In comparison with other big cats, Cheetahs occur at relatively low densities (10-30% of typical densities for Lions, Leopards, Tigers and Jaguars in prime habitat: Durant 2007). The highest density recorded for Cheetah, not including small and highly managed fenced reserves in South Africa, is in the Serengeti National Park, where densities range up to 2.5 per 100 km2 (Durant et al. 2011), but seasonally cheetahs can congregate at densities up to 40 per 100 km2 (Caro 1994), which can give a misleading impression of over-inflated densities. Caro (1994) attributes relatively low Cheetah densities in the herbivore rich Serengeti to interspecific competition (especially with larger species such as Lions and hyenas that can kill Cheetah cubs), but on Namibian farmlands and in the Sahara where there are no competitors, Cheetahs still occur at low densities (0.2 per 100 km2) (Marker 2002) and 0.23 per 10,000 km2 (Belbachir et al. 2015), respectively. In such environments cheetah may be limited by prey rather than competitors. Clearly, Cheetah can coexist alongside other competitors, and have developed avoidance strategies to minimize the loss of kills and cubs where competitor densities are high (Durant 1998, 2000a, c; Broekhuis et al. 2013, Rostro-Garcia et al. 2015), while in other environments impacts of competitors may be much lower (Mills and Mills 2014).
Habitats that are favored by cheetahs include grasslands and deserts. Cheetahs are terrestrial, but have been known to climb trees on occasion.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland
- Ortolani, , Alessia, T. Caro. 1996. The Adaptive Significans of Color Patterns in Carnivores: Phylogenetic tests of CLassic Hypotheses. Carnivore Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution, 2: 125-136.
Cheetahs have a carnivorous diet, of which a large portion includes gazelles, especially the Thomson’s gazelle. Their diet also includes impalas and other small- and medium-sized ungulates, as well as young large ungulates. Small animals, such as hares and birds, are also prey to cheetahs, especially when other animals are hard to obtain. When cheetahs are able to overtake their prey, the animal is usually knocked to the ground with the cheetah’s forepaws, and the cheetah proceeds to strangle the animal by seizing its throat with its jaws. Strangling is not unique to cheetahs, as many other felids use this technique to kill their prey. Unlike other cats, cheetahs do not ambush or stalk prey until it is well within springing distance. Instead, they charges from a distance around 70 to 100 meters away from the subject. Success rates are often more dismal if the charge begins from more than 200 m distance, and the chase can only be continued for a distance up to 500 m. The cheetah is one of the fastest terrestrial mammals, with reported maximum speeds ranging from 80 to 112 kilometers per hour. This velocity, however, cannot be maintained for more than a few hundred meters before the individual overheats. The majority of hunts end in failure.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
The role of cheetahs in their ecosystem is relatively unknown.
Cheetah cub mortality is the highest for cats that are not hunted by humans. Lions, hyenas, and leopards have been documented killing cheetah cubs. There have been no direct observations of infanticide by cheetahs. Females have been observed in altercations with males within a short time range of losing cubs. It is presumed that if infanticide occurs among cheetahs, it is done with the purpose of ensuring that the mother will come into estrus. While other predators will kill adult cheetahs if the chance arises, most adults will flee predators. Lions and hyenas have been observed as kleptoparasites of cheetah kills, but the cheetah in question is usually unable to discourage parasitism and relents in favor of fighting for its meal.
- lions (Panthera leo)
- spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta)
- leopards (Panthera pardus)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
While uncommon, when members of a male coalition become separated, vocal calling (described as “yipps” and “churrs”) occurs for up to 20 minutes continuously until reunited with his partners. Females will also call to their cubs to locate them, especially if young cubs have wandered from their hidden lair. Scent marking, while not direct, is an important aspect of communication with cheetahs since they are predominantly asocial and females only meet other individuals when it is time to breed.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
The lifespan of wild males is difficult to estimate due to the fact that they move to new areas often. The estimated minimum age at death of males observed was between 6 to 8 years of age. Territorial males tend to have better health conditions than nonresident males, and may be expected to live longer. There is no evidence suggesting that males in coalitions have a longer or shorter lifespan than solitary males. Females that survive to independence have a longer lifespan than males with an average age of 6.2 years. Males that reach independence have a minimum longevity of 2.8 years
Status: wild: 8 (high) years.
Status: wild: 6 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 19.0 years.
Status: captivity: 17.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Cheetahs are promiscuous in nature, with the limiting factor for males being accessibility to females. The factor limiting reproductive success for females is access to resources. Males associate with females only at mating, provide no parental care, and will mate with as many females as possible. Females are essentially solitary and will breed throughout the year, though the majority of copulations on the Serengeti occur during the wet season. Females will mate with different males over successive attempts, and if encounters with male coalitions occur, they may mate with more than one individual. Females have territories that will overlap with the territories of other females and males. Males, in or not in coalitions, will have territories in which they travel in search of females and will also leave their territories in search of females in estrus. Non-territorial males will travel the territories of resident males in search of females while keeping a low profile.
Mating System: polygynous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Female cheetahs are polyestrus and in captivity cycle on average every 3 to 27 days, and may be receptive from 1 to 14 days. Cheetahs must be induced to ovulate, and there is little evidence for seasonal breeding. Females undergo their first cycle at the age of 13 to 16 months, and on average reach sexual maturity between the ages of 21 to 22 months. Females typically give birth to their first litter at an average of 2.4 years of age, with intervals between litters of 20.1 months and a mean litter size of 2.1 cubs. There is no evidence to suggest that females visit male territories in order to choose between different resident males. The average copulation frequency for cheetahs is 3 to 5 times per day.
Gestation lasts between 90 and 95 days. Cheetah cubs are altricial at birth. They have closed eyes, little locomotive skill, and will open their eyes 4 to 11 days after birth. Young cheetahs will begin walking after 12 to 13 days when their eyes are open. At birth in the wild, cubs weigh between 250 and 300 grams, but in captivity can reach 460 grams. Litter sizes have been recorded up to 8 cubs in captivity, but 6 is the maximum that has been recorded in the wild. The average litter size in the wild is 2.6 cubs. Deciduous milk teeth in cubs erupt between 3 and 6 weeks of age, and will not be replaced with permanent teeth until the cubs are around 8 months old. Cubs are weaned from milk before their permanent teeth erupt, between 3 and 6 months of age. Cubs will stay with their mother until they are 15 to 17 months old.
Breeding interval: The breading frequency of cheetahs is unknown.
Breeding season: Females enter estrus at any point during the year.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 6.
Average number of offspring: 2.1.
Range gestation period: 90 to 95 days.
Range weaning age: 3 to 6 months.
Range time to independence: 15 to 17 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 13 to 16 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; induced ovulation ; fertilization ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 489 g.
Average number of offspring: 3.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 456 days.
The thick gray mane that young cubs have on the nape, shoulders, and back appears to function as camouflage from predators. The infant hair disappears after 3 months of age after their mother no longer hides them and they begin to follow her. A short mane is retained into adolescence or longer for some individuals. Young cubs are hidden in a marsh, a rocky outcrop, or simply tall vegetation for protection from predators for an average of eight weeks, and may be carried to new hiding locations during the period as their mothers leave the cubs to hunt. Females with cubs may have to hunt successfully every day, whereas lone adults can afford to make kills every 2 to 5 days.
Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); extended period of juvenile learning; inherits maternal/paternal territory
- Broom, R. 1949. Notes on the milk dentition of the lion, leopard and cheetah. Annals Transvaal Museum, 21: 183-185.
- Caro, T. 1994. Cheetahs of the Serengeti Plains: group living in an asocial species. Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
- Caro, T., D. Collins. 1987. Male cheetah social organization and territoriality. Ethology, 74: 52-64.
- Eaton, R. 1974. The cheetah. Reinhold, New York: Van Nostrand.
- Kitchener, A. 1991. The natural history of the wild cats. London, United Kingdom.: Christopher Helm, A. and C. Black.
- Krausman, P., S. Morales. 2005. Acinonyx jubatus. Mammalian Species, 771: 1-6.
- Laurenson, M. 1993. Early maternal behavior of wild cheetahs: implications for captive husbandry. Zoo Biology, 12: 31-43.
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker’s mammals of the world, 6th edition. Baltimore, Maryland: .Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Wack, R., L. Kramer, W. Cupps, P. Currie. 1991. Growth rate of 21 captive-born, mother-raised cheetah cubs. Zoo Biology, 10: 273-276.
- Wrogemann, N. 1975. Cheetah under the sun. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill.
Evolution and Systematics
The spine of the cheetah increases its running speed because its flexiblity allows longer stride lengths.
"They [plains predators] have effectively lengthened their limbs by making their spine extremely flexible. At full stretch, travelling at high speed, their hind and front legs overlap one another beneath the body just like those of a galloping antelope. The cheetah has a thin elongated body and is said to be the fastest runner on earth, capable of reaching speeds, in bursts, of over 110 kph. But this method is very energy-consuming. Great muscular effort is needed to keep the spine springing back and forth and the cheetah cannot maintain such speeds for more than a minute or so." (Attenborough 1979:264)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Attenborough, D. 1979. Life on earth. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. 319 p.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Acinonyx jubatus
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Acinonyx jubatus
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 21
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
The known Cheetah population is roughly 6,700 adult and adolescent animals distributed across 29 subpopulations. These estimates are very approximate, and are derived from largely expert assessment and from the extent of known resident Cheetah range multiplied by density, however, they constitute the best available information. The global population estimate can be broken down regionally into an estimated 4,190 adults in Southern Africa (IUCN SSC 2007a, in prep.); 1,960 adults in Eastern Africa (IUCN SSC 2007b); 440 adults in Western, Central and Northern Africa (IUCN SSC 2012); and 80 adults in Iran (Hunter et al. 2007, Iranian Cheetah Society 2013). There is only a single subpopulation with an estimated size of more than 1,000 individuals, and only one additional subpopulation larger than 500, the remaining 27 known subpopulations are estimated to hold less than 500 individuals. Additional areas where Cheetah status is poorly known are unlikely to raise the total to over 10,000.
Generation time for a Cheetah is estimated at 4.9 years using the formula GL = Rspan*z +AFR (Pacificiet al. 2013). AFR =age at first reproduction 2 years (Durant et al. 2004); Rspan = reproductive lifespan, which is the age at last reproduction 12 years (Durant et al. 2004) - age of first reproduction 2 years = 10 years; z = 0.29, and is a constant depending on survivorship and relative fecundity of young vs. old individuals in the population (IUCN Standards and Petitions Subcommittee 2014), calculated as the slope of the linear regression between GL and Rspan for 221 mammalian species (Pacifici et al. 2013). Three Cheetah generations are thus approximately 15 years.
Because of the difficulty in estimating density for a wide ranging scarce carnivore like the Cheetah, there is little accurate information on population decline. In Africa we estimate that known resident Cheetah range today occupies 2,709,054 km2, while historic range was 25,344,648 km2 - a decline of 89%. This decline in range is primarily due to habitat loss and fragmentation; killing and capture of Cheetahs due to livestock depredation; and loss of prey (IUCN SSC 2007a, b, 2012). Illegal trade is likely to have a big impact in some areas, notably the Horn of Africa (Nowell 2014).
If we assume the bulk of this decline was exponential at a fixed percentage per year and started 100 years ago (at the onset of rapid anthropogenic environmental change), then this amounts to a loss of range of 2.26% per year. This constant rate of decline results in an estimated resident range of 3,643,882 km2 in 1999, three Cheetahgenerations ago (15 years). This results in an estimated decline of 29% resident range over the last three Cheetah generations.
While some of unknown range and probable range may contain Cheetah, which would increase the estimated resident's range, this is unlikely to make a substantial change. If probable resident range is included with resident range (total 4,804,254 km2), this results in a 22% decline from historical range over the last three Cheetah generations.
However, it is unlikely that the rate of decline in Cheetah range has remained constant over the last 100 years. Drivers of decline, such as conflict, loss of prey, habitat change, are likely to have decreased disproportionately with range occupancy (Lindsey et al. 2011, Durant et al. 2014), resulting in a recent acceleration in range collapse. Thus, a decline of at least 30% in abundance and extent of occurrence is strongly suspected over the last three Cheetah generations, and a decline of at least 10% is likely over the next three generations.
Subspecies in Iran (A. j. venaticus) and northwest Africa (A. j. heckii) are listed as Critically Endangered. The Cheetah is also assessed as Critically Endangered in the region of North and West Africa.
- 2008Vulnerable (VU)
- 2002Vulnerable (VU)
- 1996Vulnerable (VU)
- 1994Vulnerable (V)
- 1990Vulnerable (V)
- 1988Vulnerable (V)
- 1986Vulnerable (V)
The IUCN database lists cheetahs as a vulnerable species. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service lists the cheetah as endangered in all locations found, and has been on the endangered species list since the 2nd of June, 1970. Despite this, yearly quotas are permitted in Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana of 50, 150, and 5 individuals, respectively. Genetic studies of cheetahs have shown that there is very little genetic variation within the species, possibly due to a severe bottleneck event during its evolutionary history. This leaves the cheetah extremely vulnerable to environmental disruption and disease. Cheetahs, when compared to other African cats, have a smaller success rate in hunting. Cheetahs “seem to work harder” (Nowak 1999) than other big cats, and so might be more vulnerable to environmental change from human disturbance than the other cats in the area. The people of Namibia and Zimbawe still persecute cheetahs today due to livestock losses, and they are shot for sport in regions of the Sahel. However, most of the countries where cheetahs are found protect the species.
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix i
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
- IUCN, 1996. "Cat Specialist Group: Species Accounts: Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)" (On-line). Accessed November 21, 2011 at http://www.iucn.org/.
- US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1970. "United States Fish and Wildlife Service" (On-line). Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), Environmental Conservation Online System. Accessed November 21, 2011 at http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=A00S.
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Acinonyx jubatus , see its USFWS Species Profile
Status in Egypt
1) For well managed protected areas density was estimated at one individual per 100 km2, slightly higher than Kruger National Park, but lower than the volcanic savannas of the Serengeti ecosystem (Bowland 1995, Durant et al. 2011);
2) For areas that are largely unprotected or are under threat density was estimated at 0.25 individuals per 100 km2, corresponding to the lower bound on the density range found on Namibian farmlands (Marker 2002);
3) For the Sahara density was estimated at one individual per 4,000 km2, using the only available estimate in this habitat from the Algerian Sahara (Belbachir et al. 2015); and
4) For two subpopulations in west and central Africa density was estimated at one individual per 1,000 km2, consistent with a density higher than that found in the desert, but lower than that found in Namibian farmlands, in line with elevated pressures and direct threats in these regions.
The population estimates so derived for Cheetah as presented here, including the expert based estimates, should be treated with extreme caution and are provided as an indication only. Density and abundance estimates for Cheetah are imprecise, and a small change in mean density estimation could result in a large overall change in population estimates. Population estimates refer to adults and independent adolescents only, and do not include cubs.
Southern Africa is the Cheetahs regional stronghold, holding a rough estimate of 4,190 adults and independent adolescents distributed across ten subpopulations (IUCN SSC 2007b; Marnewick et al. 2007; Purchase 2007a, b; Purchase et al. 2007, Purchase and Purchase 2007; Williams 2007; Chilufya and Purchase 2011; Andresen et al. 2012; IUCN SSC in prep.). The largest of these subpopulations supports an estimated 3,940 individuals, comprising the majority of the regional population, which is spread across a large transboundary landscape covering Botswana, Namibia, northern South Africa, south-western Zambia and south-western Mozambique.
The other nine subpopulations are much smaller: 60 individuals in Kafue National Park, Zambia; 50 in and around Hwange National Park; 46 in Gonarezhou National Park and Save Conservancy; 40 spread across three conservancies in southern Zimbabwe; 20 in Liuwa Plains, Zambia; 12 in Mana Pools; 10 in Bahine National Park; four in Rhino Conservancy Zimbabwe and three in Matusadona, Zimbabwe. The latter subpopulation has decreased substantially after a reintroduction of Cheetah in the mid 1990s and may indicate long term viability of Cheetah populations in small areas (Purchase 1998, Purchase and du Toit 2000, Purchase et al. 2006). A large proportion of the estimated subpopulation in the region lives outside protected areas, in lands ranched primarily for livestock but also for wild game (IUCN SSC 2007b, Purchase et al. 2007). Larger competitors, such as Lions and Spotted Hyenas, have been extirpated from much of this range. There are also around 293 Cheetahs in an intensively managed meta-population distributed across small fenced reserves in South Africa (van der Merwe and K. Marnewick pers comms.) that we have excluded from the overall population estimates.
The Eastern Africa Cheetah population is estimated at 2,572 adults and independent adolescents distributed across 15 subpopulations (IUCN SSC 2007a). Only four of these subpopulations are estimated to number 200 animals or more. In descending order of estimated population size the 15 subpopulations are: 710 individuals in the Serengeti/Mara/Tsavo landscape in Kenya and Tanzania; 450 in the Laikipia/Samburu landscape in Kenya; 250 in the Omo Mago/Borena protected areas and buffer zones in Ethiopia; 200 in the Ruaha landscape in Tanzania; 190 in Boma National Park in South Sudan; 150 in the Katavi-Ugalla landscape in Tanzania; 130 in Southern National Park in South Sudan; 110 in the Ogaden landscape in Ethiopia; 100 in the Maasai steppe in Tanzania; 70 in each of the Blen-Afar National Park in Ethiopia and Badingilo National Park in South Sudan; 60 in Radom National Park in South Sudan; 40 in the Afar landscape in Ethiopia; 30 in the Yangudi Rassa landscape in Ethiopia; and 12 in the Kidepo National Park in Uganda and bordering areas in South Sudan (IUCN SSC 2007a). A large proportion of Cheetah range in Eastern Africa is outside protected areas, on lands that are largely occupied by traditional pastoralist communities (IUCN SSC 2007a).
The number of known resident Cheetahs in western, central and northern Africa is estimated at 446 adults and independent adolescents distributed across four populations (IUCN SSC 2012). These are: 217 individuals in Bahr/Salamat landscape in Chad and CAR; 201 in the Adrar des Ifhogas/Ahaggar/AjjarTassili landscape in Algeria and Mali; 23 in the WAP complex in Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso; 4 in Air et Tenere connected to another 1-2 individuals in the Termit Massiff, both in Niger. As in the other regions, a large proportion of Cheetah range in this region is outside protected areas, on lands that are largely occupied by traditional sedentary and semi-nomadic pastoralist communities (IUCN SSC 2012, Belbachir et al. 2015).
In Asia, Cheetahs are now confined to Iran, where the subspecies Acinonyx jubatus venaticus is estimated at 60-100 (Hunter et al. 2007c) and listed as Critically Endangered.
The total known Cheetah population is therefore very provisionally estimated at around 6,674 adults and independent adolescents. Thus the population is extremely unlikely to exceed 10,000 mature individuals, meeting the criteria for Vulnerable. The effective population size (the estimated percentage of the population contributing to the gene pool through reproductive success) using data from a long term study population of Cheetah in the Serengeti ecosystem is estimated at 2,937 or, if skewed female heritability is taken into account, this is reduced to 1,001 (Kelly 2001). While Cheetah female reproductive success is highly skewed, genetic analysis showed that female Cheetahs mated with multiple males, many from outside the study area, with 43% of litters having mixed paternity (Gottelli et al. 2007). This suggests that male reproductive success may be less skewed than expected, but it also underscores the importance of Cheetah mobility in their ecology and conservation.
The low density of the Cheetah across their range means they need large areas of connected habitat for their survival. The facts that the majority of known Cheetah range (76%) is on unprotected lands, and that their populations are extremely fragmented are causes for concern.
Cheetah living outside protected areas are often threatened by conflict with livestock and game farmers (Marker et al. 2003a, Inskip and Zimmermann 2009, Thorn et al. 2013; Dickman et al. 2014). While Cheetahs tend to prefer wild prey over livestock, they may kill livestock in some circumstances and can be killed by farmers in retaliation (Marker et al. 2003a, Dickman et al. 2014). Conflict with game farmers is widespread as Cheetahs are seen as competitors for valuable game offtake. These conflicts may involve both subsistence pastoralists and commercial ranchers. In many areas Cheetah survival in the face of this conflict is partly due to the fact that they are difficult to kill. They rarely scavenge (Caro 1994, Durant et al. 2010b), hence they are less susceptible to poisoning than are other carnivores such as hyaenas, leopards and lions.
Cheetah are highly efficient hunters, and are able to survive in areas of comparatively low prey density (Caro 1994, Durant et al. 2010b, Belbachir et al. 2015). Nevertheless, loss of prey due to hunting, high livestock densities and grazing pressure, and/or habitat conversion may directly impact cheetah populations. Prey loss can also have serious indirect effects, since predation on livestock may become more frequent where wild prey are depleted (Marker et al. 2003b), intensifying conflict with livestock farmers.
Cheetah may also become captured in snares set for bushmeat offtake, even though they may not be the primary target (Lindsey et al. 2013). While effects on Cheetah populations are not well quantified, snared Cheetah are reported occasionally and snaring may threaten some subpopulations, particularly when subpopulations are small and isolated.
High speed roads also represent a threat to Cheetah populations. This is a particular concern where paved roads cross or adjoin major wildlife areas, such as the Nairobi-Mombasa road which traverses Tsavo National Park in Kenya, and the main road that passes through Khavd Touran Biosphere reserve in Iran. In Iran, out of 27 known Cheetah mortalities between 2005 and 2011 due to various human-causes, at least 11 were killed on roads through Kalmand, Turan, Bafq and Dare Anjir protected areas, making it the major cause of anthropogenic mortality (Iranian Cheetah Society 2013). In separate incidents in 2014 two Cheetahs were hit and terminally injured by cars on the dirt main road through the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, while deaths have also been reported on many other roads including examples in South Africa, Zambia and Kenya. Such mortality could have a significant impact on the viability of small and isolated populations of Cheetah.
Unregulated tourism has the capacity to threaten Cheetah populations (Roe et al. 1997). Cheetah are undeniably a key attraction for wildlife tourists from Africa; in Amboseli National Park in Kenya tourists spent 12-15% of their total time spent wildlife viewing observing Cheetah (Roe et al. 1997). Large numbers of tourist vehicles or insensitive tourist behaviour can lead to a number of negative effects such as interference with Cheetahs hunting, scaring Cheetah away from kills to which they are unlikely to return, and separation of mothers from cubs (Henry 1975, 1980; Burney 1980). Cub mortality due to separation from their mother has been reported in the Serengeti National Park and Mara Reserve. A large number of vehicles around a Cheetah can also restrict its view, and there has been an unconfirmed report of a Cheetah being killed by a Lion whose approach was masked by vehicles. There have even been unconfirmed reports of vehicles running over Cheetah cubs in the Mara Reserve in their scramble to get close up photographs. In contrast, well-regulated tourism can make important contributions to Cheetah conservation, not only by the revenue it generates, but also by raising awareness and increasing political will for conservation (Roe et al. 1997).
Although Cheetah can be affected by infectious disease (notably mange within the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, (Caro et al. 1987, Gakuya et al. 2012) and anthrax in Etosha (Turnbull et al. 2004)), the low density of Cheetah mean that infectious disease is unlikely to present a major threat to free-ranging Cheetah populations.
Cheetah are hunted in some areas for their skins, and also for cultural uses. Additionally, there is a substantial illegal trade in Cheetah cubs to Gulf states (see Use and Trade).
An emerging threat is an increase in resource extraction and extensive infrastructure development, such as mining, oil, pipelines, roads and railways. These developments risk further fragmentation of the remaining Cheetah subpopulations into smaller and smaller subpopulations which may no longer be viable. This has been reported to be a particular problem in Iran (Dehghan 2013).
All these threats play some role in most Cheetah subpopulations across Africa. In Eastern, Southern and Western Africa, habitat loss and fragmentation have been identified as a primary threat (IUCN SSC 2007a, b, 2012). Because Cheetahs occur at low densities, conservation of viable populations requires large scale land management planning; as most existing protected areas are not large enough to ensure the long term survival of Cheetahs (Durant et al. 2010b). In northern Africa and Iran a depleted wild ungulate prey base is a particular concern (Hunter et al. 2007, Durant et al. 2014, Belbachir et al. 2015). While conflict with livestock farmers due to livestock depredation, either perceived or real, is a widespread and serious problem across Cheetah range.
While the threats outlined above constitute the proximate causes of Cheetah decline, they are a consequence of many ultimate drivers. These include political constraints such as a lack of land use planning, insecurity and political instability and a lack of awareness or political will to foster Cheetah conservation. Many of the range states where Cheetahs occur suffer from a lack of capacity and financial resources to support conservation, and there is a lack of incentives for local people to conserve wildlife. Meanwhile a lack of environmental awareness, rising human populations, and social changes are leading to ever increasing subdivision of land and subsequent habitat fragmentation. These drivers will also need to be addressed if the immediate threats are to be reduced.
The species is listed on Appendix I of CITES, Appendix 1 of CMS and is protected under national legislation throughout most of its extant and some of its former range (Nowell and Jackson 1996; IUCN SSC 2007a, b, 2012). However, a number of countries permit Cheetahs to be killed in defence of life and livestock, as part of their problem animal control regulations (Purchase et al. 2007). There is very rarely any systematic monitoring of how many animals are killed in this way. Moreover, in some countries the retention of Cheetah parts, such as skin, may be permitted in these operations, which may provide additional incentives for animal removals.
In Africa, nearly all range states are actively involved with the Range Wide Conservation Program for Cheetah and African Wild Dogs (RWCP), which has supported them in the development of regional strategies and national conservation action plans using the IUCN SSC strategic planning process (IUCN SSC 2008). Cheetah and Wild Dog are combined in this process because of their similar low densities, large space needs and ecological requirements. This also increases leverage for conservation action by way of delivering impacts for two threatened species for the price of one. There are three regional strategies in place for Africa covering all of Cheetah range: Eastern Africa (IUCN SSC 2007a); Southern Africa (IUCN SSC 2007b); and Western, Central and Northern Africa (IUCN SSC 2012).
As well as providing a regional framework, these strategies also provide a framework for national conservation action planning. They are used within national conservation action planning workshops that allow broad regional commitments to be tailored to the specific policy and legislative environments within each range state. National conservation action plans are in place for most range states (dates of the planning workshop in brackets): Kenya (2007), Botswana (2007), Ethiopia (2010), South Sudan (2009), Zambia (2009), Zimbabwe (2009), South Africa (2009), Benin (2014), Niger (2012); Chad (2015); Tanzania (2013); Mozambique (2010); Namibia (2013). In addition, Cheetah are covered in Ugandas Large Carnivore National Conservation Action Plan (2010). These 15 action plans cover all or part of 26 of the 27 known Cheetah subpopulations and 67% of known Cheetah range (the majority of remaining range is in Algeria). Each national conservation action plan is published by the range state wildlife authority and represents each states commitment to Cheetah (and Wild Dog) conservation.
The strategies and action plans provide a road map for reversing ongoing declines in Cheetah populations using a holistic approach that addresses both the proximate threats as well as the ultimate drivers of these threats (see Threats). While there are some differences between individual plans and strategies, they broadly all address objectives to improve national capacity for Cheetah conservation and management; raise awareness of and political commitment to cheetah conservation; promote human Cheetah coexistence; improve land use planning and reduce habitat fragmentation; improve policy and legislation; and address Cheetah conservation information needs. Local and national projects and NGOs are critical to this process, as well as governments, and the implementation of the plans and strategies is overseen by three regional co-ordinators. There are also a number of different projects and/or NGOs established across southern and eastern Africa that are either dedicated specifically to the conservation and research of Cheetah, or to the guild of large carnivores. Many of these projects carry out important site-based conservation activities that benefit Cheetah, and some also provide support for capacity development of national wildlife authorities. There are no long-term initiatives in northern, western or central Africa, but there are some new developments in this region.
In Iran, the Asiatic Cheetah is completely protected. The main protected areas for this species are Kavir National Park, Khar Touran National Park, Naybandan Wildlife Refuge, Bafgh Protected Area and Dar Anjir Wildlife Refuge (Hunter et al. 2007c). The UNDP have established a program of work to support conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah, and a conservation planning workshop took place in 2008, leading to an action plan. In 2009, the Afghan Government placed Cheetah on the countrys Protected Species List, meaning all hunting and trading of this species within Afghanistan is now illegal, although it is thought to be extinct in the country.
The IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group maintains a Cheetah Conservation Compendium with a reference library and detailed country information (www.catsg.org) which provides a useful resource for publications relating to all aspects of Cheetah ecology and conservation.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
In Namibia and other regions of southern Africa, cheetahs are considered a pest and a serious danger to livestock, and are persecuted accordingly.
Negative Impacts: crop pest
The cheetah was semi-domesticated for the purposes of hunting in ancient Egypt, Sumeria, and Assyria, and continued to be used for 4,300 years. More recently, cheetahs been used for hunting by European and Indian royalty, usually taken hooded like a falcon and then released when game was within sight. Cheetahs were favored over other hunting companions because if they tried to escape, they could be caught within a few hundred yards by a person on horseback.
Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism ; research and education
The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is a large feline (family Felidae, subfamily Felinae) inhabiting most of Africa and parts of Iran. It is the only extant member of the genus Acinonyx. The cheetah can run faster than any other land animal— as fast as 112 to 120 km/h (70 to 75 mph) in short bursts covering distances up to 500 m (1,600 ft), and has the ability to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in three seconds.
The cheetah is a unique felid, with its closest living relatives being the puma and jaguarundi of the Americas. This cat is notable for modifications in the species' paws, being one of the few felids with only semi-retractable claws.
Its main hunting strategy is to run down swift prey such as various antelope species and hares. Almost every facet of the cheetah's anatomy has evolved to maximise its success in the chase, the result of an evolutionary arms race with its prey. Due to this specialisation, however, the cheetah is poorly equipped to defend itself against other large predators, with speed being its main means of defence.
In the wild, the cheetah is a prolific breeder, with up to nine cubs in a litter. The majority of cubs do not survive to adulthood, mainly as a result of depredation from other predators. The rate of cub mortality varies from area to area, from 50% to 75%, and in extreme cases such as the Serengeti ecosystem, up to 90%. Cheetahs are notoriously poor breeders in captivity, though several organizations, such as the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre, have succeeded in breeding high numbers of cubs.
The cheetah is listed as vulnerable, facing various threats including competition with and predation by other carnivores, a gene pool with very low variability, and persecution by mankind. It is a charismatic species and many captive cats are "ambassadors" for their species and wildlife conservation in general.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Genetics, evolution, and classification
- 3 Description
- 4 Range and habitat
- 5 Reproduction and behavior
- 6 Relationship with humans
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 References
- 9 Sources
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Genetics, evolution, and classification
The cheetah has unusually low genetic variability. This is accompanied by a very low sperm count, motility, and deformed flagella. Skin grafts between unrelated cheetahs illustrate the former point, in that there is no rejection of the donor skin. It is thought that the species went through a prolonged period of inbreeding following a genetic bottleneck during the last ice age. This suggests that genetic monomorphism did not prevent the cheetah from flourishing across two continents for thousands of years.
The cheetah likely evolved in Africa during the Miocene epoch (26 million to 7.5 million years ago), before migrating to Asia. Recent research has placed the last common ancestor of all existing populations as living in Asia 11 million years ago, which may lead to revision and refinement of existing ideas about cheetah evolution.
The now-extinct species include Acinonyx pardinensis (Pliocene epoch), much larger than the modern cheetah and found in Europe, India, and China; and Acinonyx intermedius (mid-Pleistocene period), found over the same range. The extinct genus Miracinonyx was extremely cheetah-like, but recent DNA analysis has shown that Miracinonyx inexpectatus, Miracinonyx studeri, and Miracinonyx trumani (early to late Pleistocene epoch), found in North America and called the "North American cheetah" are not true cheetahs, instead being close relatives to the cougar.
Although many sources list six or more subspecies of cheetah, the taxonomic status of most of these subspecies is unresolved. Acinonyx rex—the king cheetah—was abandoned as a subspecies after it was discovered that the variation was caused by a single recessive gene. The subspecies Acinonyx jubatus guttatus, the woolly cheetah, may also have been a variation due to a recessive gene. Some of the most commonly recognized subspecies include:
|South African cheetah (A. j. jubatus), also called the Namibian cheetah||Lives in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, and is the most common subspecies. In 2007, there were 1,800 in Botswana, 550-850 in South Africa, 400 in Zimbabwe, 100 in Zambia, more than 50-90 in Mozambique and more than 25-50 in Malawi. In Namibia, the population has increased from 2,500 to 3,500 today. It lives in grasslands, savannahs, arid environments, open fields and mountains, and occupies a medium size range among surviving subspecies.|
|Tanzanian cheetah (A. j. raineyii), also commonly known as East African cheetah||Is found in Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda. The total population in 2007 was estimated at 2,572 adults and independent adolescents. Tanzanian cheetahs are the second-common subspecies after the most numerous South African cheetah. It is the largest subspecies.|
|Sudan cheetah (A. j. soemmeringii), also known as Central or Northeast African cheetah||Found in the central and northeastern regions of the continent and in the Horn of Africa, this subspecies was considered identical to the South African cheetah until a 2011 genetic analysis demonstrated significant differences. It is the second-largest of the surviving subspecies. In 2002, the total population was estimated at around 2,000 individuals in the wild.|
|Northwest African cheetah (A. j. hecki), also known as the Saharan cheetah||Lives in the northwestern part of Africa. With an estimated total world population of only 250 mature individuals, it is listed as critically endangered. It is the palest and smallest African cheetah subspecies.|
|Asiatic cheetah (A. j. venaticus), also known as Iranian or Indian cheetah||Found only on the deserts of Iran, and is thus the only surviving cheetah subspecies indigenous to Asia. It is the most critically endangered subspecies of cheetah, and one of the most endangered animals in the world. As of 2013, the wild population is estimated at between 40 and 70, found mostly in Iran's national parks. It is among the smallest of the cheetahs, with a slighter build than the African cheetahs, more fur on the back of the neck, a longer and more powerful neck, thinner tear marks and a smaller head. It is the only subspecies to possess a winter fur coat.|
The cheetah's chest is deep and its waist is narrow. The coarse, short fur of the cheetah is tan with round black spots measuring from 2 to 3 cm (0.79 to 1.18 in) across, affording it some camouflage while hunting. There are no spots on its white underside, but the tail has spots, which merge to form four to six dark rings at the end. The tail usually ends in a bushy white tuft. The cheetah has a small head with high-set eyes. Black "tear marks" running from the corner of its eyes down the sides of the nose to its mouth keep sunlight out of its eyes and aid 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.
Agility, rather than raw speed, accounts for much of the cheetah's ability to catch prey. Cheetahs can accelerate four times as fast as a human (thanks to greater muscle power) and can slow down by 14 kilometers per hour in one stride. They can hunt successfully in densely vegetated areas.
The adult cheetah weighs from 21 to 72 kg (46 to 159 lb). Its total head-and-body length is from 110 to 150 cm (43 to 59 in), while the tail can measure 60 to 84 cm (24 to 33 in) in length. Cheetahs are 66 to 94 cm (26 to 37 in) tall at the shoulder. 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 difficult to tell males and females apart by appearance alone. Compared to a similarly sized leopard, the cheetah is generally shorter-bodied, but is longer tailed and taller (it averages about 90 cm (35 in) tall) and so it appears more streamlined.
Some cheetahs have a rare fur pattern mutation of larger, blotchy, merged spots. Known as "king cheetahs," they were once thought to constitute a separate subspecies but are in fact African cheetahs; their unusual fur pattern is the result of a single recessive gene. The "king cheetah" has only been seen in the wild a handful of times, but it has been bred in captivity.
The cheetah's paws have semi-retractable claws (known only in three other cat species: the fishing cat, the flat-headed cat and the Iriomote cat), offering extra grip in its high-speed pursuits. The ligament structure of the cheetah's claws is the same as those of other cats; it simply lacks the sheath of skin and fur present in other varieties, and therefore, with the exception of the dewclaw, the claws are always visible. The dewclaw is much shorter and straighter than that of other cats.
Adaptations that enable the cheetah to run as fast as it does include large nostrils that allow for increased oxygen intake, and an enlarged heart and lungs that work together to circulate oxygen efficiently. During a typical chase, its respiratory rate increases from 60 to 150 breaths per minute. While running, in addition to having good traction due to its semi-retractable claws, the cheetah uses its tail as a rudder-like means of steering to allow it to make sharp turns, necessary to outflank prey animals that often make such turns to escape.
Unlike true big cats of subfamily Pantherinae, the cheetah can purr as it inhales, but cannot roar. By contrast, the big cats can roar but cannot purr, except while exhaling. The cheetah is still considered by some to be the smallest of the big cats. While it is often mistaken for the leopard, the cheetah does have distinguishing features, such as the aforementioned long "tear-streak" lines that run from the corners of its eyes to its mouth, and spots that are not "rosettes". The thinner body frame of the cheetah is also very different from that of the leopard.
The cheetah is a vulnerable species. Of all the big cats, it is the least able to adapt to new environments. It has always proved difficult to breed in captivity, although recently a few zoos have managed to succeed at this. One technique has been to introduce a dog as a playmate and guard dog to enable a captive cheetah to feel less threatened.
Once widely hunted for its fur, the cheetah now suffers more from the loss of both habitat and prey.
The cheetah was formerly considered to be particularly primitive among the cats and to have evolved approximately 18 million years ago. However, new research suggests the last common ancestor of all 40 existing species of felines lived more recently than about 11 million years ago. The same research indicates that the cheetah, while highly derived morphologically, is not of particularly ancient lineage, having separated from its closest living relatives (Puma concolor, the cougar, and Puma yaguarondi, the jaguarundi) around five million years ago. These felids have not changed appreciably since they first appeared in the fossil record.
Morphs and variations
The king cheetah is a rare mutation of the cheetah characterized by a distinct fur pattern. It was first noted in what was then Southern Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe) in 1926. In 1927, the naturalist Reginald Innes Pocock declared it a separate species, but reversed this decision in 1939 due to lack of evidence; but in 1928, a skin purchased by Walter Rothschild was found to be intermediate in pattern between the king cheetah and spotted cheetah and Abel Chapman considered it to be a color form of the spotted cheetah. Twenty-two such skins were found between 1926 and 1974. Since 1927, the king cheetah was reported five more times in the wild. Although strangely marked skins had come from Africa, a live king cheetah was not photographed until 1974 in South Africa's Kruger National Park. Cryptozoologists Paul and Lena Bottriell photographed one during an expedition in 1975. They also managed to obtain stuffed specimens. It appeared larger than a spotted cheetah and its fur had a different texture. There was another wild sighting in 1986—the first in seven years. By 1987, thirty-eight specimens had been recorded, many from pelts.
Its species status was resolved in 1981 when king cheetahs were born at the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre in South Africa. In May 1981, two spotted sisters gave birth there and each litter contained one king cheetah. The sisters had both mated with a wild-caught male from the Transvaal area (where king cheetahs had been recorded). Further king cheetahs were later born at the Centre. It has been known to exist in Zimbabwe, Botswana and in the northern part of South Africa's Transvaal province.
In 2012, the cause of this alternative coat pattern was found to be a mutation in the gene for transmembrane aminopeptidase Q (Taqpep), the same gene responsible for the striped "mackerel" versus blotchy "classic" patterning seen in tabby cats. The mutation is recessive and must be inherited from both parents for this pattern to appear, which is one reason why it is so rare.
Other color variations
The Mughal Emperor of India, Jahangir, recorded having a white cheetah presented to him in 1608. In the memoirs of Tuzk-e-Jahangiri, the Emperor, says that in the third year of his reign, "Raja Bir Singh Deo brought a white cheetah to show me. Although other sorts of creatures, both birds and beasts have white varieties ... I had never seen a white cheetah. Its spots, which are (usually) black, were of a blue color, and the whiteness of the body also inclined to bluishness." This suggests a chinchilla mutation which restricts the amount of pigment on the hair shaft. Although the spots were formed of black pigment, the less dense pigmentation gives a hazy, grayish effect. As well as Jahangir's white cheetah at Agra, a report of "incipient albinism" has come from Beaufort West according to Guggisberg.
In a letter to "Nature in East Africa", H. F. Stoneham reported a melanistic cheetah (black with ghost markings) in the Trans-Nzoia District of Kenya in 1925. Vesey Fitzgerald saw a melanistic cheetah in Zambia in the company of a spotted cheetah. Red (erythristic) cheetahs have dark tawny spots on a golden background. Cream (isabelline) cheetahs have pale red spots on a pale background. Some desert region cheetahs are unusually pale; probably they are better-camouflaged and therefore better hunters and more likely to breed and pass on their paler colouration. Blue (Maltese or grey) cheetahs have variously been described as white cheetahs with grey-blue spots (chinchilla) or pale grey cheetahs with darker grey spots (Maltese mutation). A cheetah with hardly any spots was shot in Tanzania in 1921 (Pocock); it had only a few spots on the neck and back, and these were unusually small. Another cheetah with this color-morph was photographed in Kenya in 2012.
Range and habitat
There are several geographically isolated populations of cheetah, all of which are found in Africa or southwestern Asia. A small population (estimated at about 50) survive in the Khorasan Province of Iran, where conservationists are taking steps to protect them.
It is possible, though doubtful, that some cheetahs remain in India. There have also been several unconfirmed reports of Asiatic Cheetahs in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, with at least one dead animal being discovered recently.
The cheetah thrives in areas with vast expanses of land where prey is abundant. The cheetah likes to live in an open biotope, such as semidesert, prairie, and thick brush, though it can be found in a variety of habitats. In Namibia, for example, it lives in grasslands, savannahs, areas of dense vegetation, and mountainous terrain.
Reproduction and behavior
Females reach maturity in twenty to twenty-four months, and males around twelve months (although they do not usually mate until at least three years old), and mating occurs throughout the year. A study of cheetahs in the Serengeti showed females are sexually promiscuous and often have cubs by many different males.
Females give birth to up to nine cubs after a gestation period of ninety to ninety-eight days, although the average litter size is four. Cubs weigh from 150 to 300 g (5.3 to 10.6 oz) at birth. Unlike some other cats, the cheetah is born with its characteristic spots. Cubs are also born with a downy underlying fur on their necks, called a mantle, extending to mid-back. This gives them a mane or Mohawk-type appearance; this fur is shed as the cheetah grows older. It has been speculated this mane gives a cheetah cub the appearance of the honey badger (ratel), to scare away potential aggressors. Cubs leave their mother between thirteen and twenty months after birth. Life span is up to twelve years in the wild, but up to twenty years in captivity. The rate of cub mortality varies from area to area, from 50% to 75%, and in extreme cases such as the Serengeti ecosystem, up to 90%. In comparison to the Serengeti, the survival rate of cheetah cubs in the Kgalagadi area was seven times higher.
Unlike males, females are solitary and tend to avoid each other, though some mother/daughter pairs have been known to be formed for small periods of time. The cheetah has a unique, well-structured social order. Females live alone, except when they are raising cubs and they raise their cubs on their own. The first eighteen months of a cub's life are important; cubs must learn many lessons, because survival depends on knowing how to hunt wild prey species and avoid other predators. At eighteen months, the mother leaves the cubs, who then form a sibling ("sib") group that will stay together for another six months. At about two years, the female siblings leave the group, and the young males remain together for life.
Males are often social and may group together for life, usually with their brothers in the same litter; although if a cub is the only male in the litter then two or three lone males may form a group, or a lone male may join an existing group. These groups are called coalitions. In one Serengeti, 41% of the adult males were solitary, 40% lived in pairs and 19% lived in trios.
A coalition is six times more likely to obtain an animal territory than a lone male, although studies have shown that coalitions keep their territories just as long as lone males— between four to four and a half years.
Males are territorial. Females' home ranges can be very large and a territory including several females' ranges is impossible to defend. Instead, males choose the points at which several of the females' home ranges overlap, creating a much smaller space, which can be properly defended against intruders while maximizing the chance of reproduction. Coalitions will try their best to maintain territories to find females with whom they will mate. The size of the territory also depends on the available resources; depending on the part of Africa, the size of a male's territory can vary greatly from 37 to 160 km2 (14 to 62 sq mi).
Males mark their territory by urinating on objects that stand out, such as trees, logs, or termite mounds. When male cheetahs urine-mark their territories, they stand less than one meter away from a tree or rock surface with the tail raised, pointing the penis either horizontally backward or 60° upward. The whole coalition contributes to the scent.[further explanation needed] Males will attempt to kill any intruders, and fights result in serious injury or death.
Unlike males and other felines, females do not establish territories. Instead, the area they live in is termed a home range. These overlap with other females' home ranges, often those of their daughters, mothers, or sisters. Females always hunt alone, although cubs will accompany their mothers to learn to hunt once they reach the age of five to six weeks.
The size of a home range depends entirely on the availability of prey. Cheetahs in southern African woodlands have ranges as small as 34 km2 (13 sq mi), while in some parts of Namibia they can reach 1,500 km2 (580 sq mi).
The cheetah cannot roar, but ranks among the more vocal felids. Several sources refer to a wide variety of cheetah vocalizations, but most of these lack a detailed acoustic description which makes it difficult to reliably assess exactly what terms refer to exactly what vocalizations. A short review of the terminology encountered is found in. Some of the vocalizations listed in the literature are:
- Chirping: When a cheetah attempts to find another, or a mother tries to locate her cubs, it uses a high-pitched barking called chirping. The chirps made by a cheetah cub sound more like a bird chirping, and so are termed chirping, too.
- Churring or stuttering: This vocalization is emitted by a cheetah during social meetings. A churr can be seen as a social invitation to other cheetahs, an expression of interest, uncertainty, or appeasement or during meetings with the opposite sex (although each sex churrs for different reasons).
- Growling: This vocalization is often accompanied by hissing and spitting and is exhibited by the cheetah during annoyance, or when faced with danger.
- Yowling: This is an escalated version of growling, usually displayed when danger worsens.
- Agonistic vocalizations: a combination of growls, moans, hisses and the "trademark" cheetah spit, which is most often accompanied by a forceful "paw hit" on the ground.
- Purring: This is made when the cheetah is content, usually during pleasant social meetings (mostly between cubs and their mothers). A characteristic of purring is that it is realized on both egressive and ingressive airstream, as seen and heard on online video and audio.
Diet and hunting
The cheetah is a carnivore, eating mostly mammalian herbivores under 40 kg (88 lb) and that which specialise in eating C3 plants, including the Thomson's gazelle, the Grant's gazelle, the springbok, impala and blesbok. The young of larger mammals such as wildebeests and zebras are taken at times, and adults too, when cheetahs hunt in groups. Guineafowl and hares are also prey. Ostriches are also taken on occasion. In Iran, cheetahs prey on the Chinkara, Goitered gazelle, ibexes and wild sheep.
While the other big cats often hunt by night, the cheetah is a diurnal hunter. It will, however, hunt on moonlit nights during the full Moon as well, where visibility is excellent. It hunts usually either early in the morning or later in the evening when it is not too hot, but there is still enough light.
The cheetah hunts by vision rather than by scent. Prey is stalked to within 10–30 m (33–98 ft), then chased. This is usually over in less than a minute, and if the cheetah fails to make a catch quickly, it will give up. The cheetah has an average hunting success rate of around 50%. Cheetahs can run at a very high speed; in just two seconds they can reach a speed of 75 kilometers per hour. The estimated top speed of the cheetah ranges from 90 to 128 kilometers per hour. Cheetahs refuse to run when their body temperature reaches 40.5 °C.
Running at very high speeds puts a great deal of strain on the cheetah's body. When sprinting, the cheetah's body temperature quickly elevates. If it is a hard chase, it sometimes needs to rest for half an hour or more.
The cheetah kills its prey by tripping it during the chase, then biting it on the underside of the throat to suffocate it; the cheetah is not strong enough to break the necks of most prey. The bite may also puncture a vital artery in the neck. Then the cheetah proceeds to devour its catch as quickly as possible before the kill is taken by stronger predators.
Data from 367 runs by three female and two male adults, with an average run distance of 173 m, showed that hunting cheetahs can run 58 miles (93 km) per hour. A recent study that followed five African cheetahs indicated that cheetahs relied most heavily on acceleration. Most chases involved extreme maneuverability more than speed. The study indicated that cheetahs seemed to rarely run close to 60 mph or more; on most hunts they reached 30 to 35 mph, but they accelerated and changed direction much more rapidly than any other land animal.
The diet of a cheetah depends on the area in which it lives. For example, on the East African plains, its preferred prey is the Thomson's gazelle. This small antelope is smaller than the cheetah, which makes it an appropriate prey. In contrast, in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the main species of the cheetah's prey preference is the significantly larger nyala, which can weigh up to 130 kg (290 lb) in the male. Cheetahs look for individuals that have strayed some distance from their group, and do not necessarily seek out old or weak ones.
Interspecific predatory relationships
Despite their speed and hunting prowess, cheetahs are largely outranked by other large predators in most of their range. Because they have evolved for short bursts of extreme speed at the expense of their power, they cannot defend themselves against most of Africa's other predator species. They usually avoid fighting and will surrender a kill immediately to even a single hyena, rather than risk injury. Because cheetahs rely on their speed to obtain their meals, any injury that slows them down could essentially be life-threatening.
A cheetah has a 50% chance of losing its kill to other predators. Cheetahs avoid competition by hunting at different times of the day and by eating immediately after the kill. Due to the reduction in habitat in Africa, cheetahs in recent years have faced greater pressure from other native African predators as available range declines.
The cheetah's mortality is very high during the early weeks of its life; up to 90% of cheetah cubs are killed during this time by lions, leopards, hyenas, African Wild Dogs, or even by eagles. Cheetah cubs often hide in thick brush for safety. Mother cheetahs will defend their young and are at times successful in driving predators away from their cubs. Coalitions of male cheetahs can also chase away other predators, depending on the coalition size and the size and number of the predator. Because of its speed, a healthy adult cheetah has few enemies.
Relationship with humans
Cheetah fur was formerly regarded as a status symbol. Today, cheetahs have a growing economic importance for ecotourism and they are also found in zoos. White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Florida, which maintains a significant population of cheetahs, has cited that captive management presents challenges because of health, nutrition and socialization of the cats, but that these have been overcome through collaborations among wildlife facilities.
Cheetahs were formerly, and sometimes still are, hunted because many farmers believe that they eat livestock. When the species came under threat, numerous campaigns were launched to try to educate farmers and encourage them to conserve cheetahs. Recent evidence has shown that cheetahs will not attack and eat livestock if they can avoid doing so, as they prefer their wild prey. However, they have no problem with including farmland as part of their territory, leading to conflict.
Ancient Egyptians often kept cheetahs as pets, and also tamed and trained them for hunting. (But not domesticated i.e., bred under human control.) Cheetahs would be taken to hunting fields in low-sided carts or by horseback, hooded and blindfolded, and kept on leashes while dogs flushed out their prey. When the prey was near enough, the cheetahs would be released and their blindfolds removed. This tradition was passed on to the ancient Persians and brought to India, where the practice was continued by Indian princes into the twentieth century. Cheetahs continued to be associated with royalty and elegance, their use as pets spreading just as their hunting skills were. Other such princes and kings kept them as pets, including Genghis Khan and Charlemagne, who boasted of having kept cheetahs within their palace grounds. Akbar the Great, ruler of the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1605, kept as many as 1,000 cheetahs. As recently as the 1930s, the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, was often photographed leading a cheetah by a leash.
Cheetahs are still tamed in the modern world. One example is Burmani, who has been raised in England at Eagle Heights wild animal park from the age of three months. He was bred in a deer park in Germany. He is so tame that he has lost his hunting instinct.
Cheetah cubs have a high mortality rate due to predation by other carnivores, such as the lion and hyena, and perhaps genetic factors. It has been suggested that the low genetic diversity of cheetahs is a cause of poor sperm, birth defects, cramped teeth, curled tails, and bent limbs. Some biologists even believe that they are too inbred to flourish as a species. Note, however, that they lost most of their genetic diversity thousands of years ago (see the beginning of this article), and yet seem to have only been in decline in the last century or so, suggesting that factors other than genetics are mainly responsible.
Cheetahs are included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of vulnerable species (African subspecies threatened, Asiatic subspecies in critical situation) as well as on the US Endangered Species Act: threatened species - Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Approximately 12,400 cheetahs remain in the wild in twenty-five African countries; Namibia has the most, with about 2,500. Another 50 to 60 critically endangered Asiatic cheetahs are thought to remain in Iran. There have been successful breeding programs, including the use of in vitro fertilisation, in zoos around the world.
Founded in Namibia in 1990, the Cheetah Conservation Fund's mission is to be the world's resource charged with protecting the cheetah and to ensure its future. The organization works with all stakeholders within the cheetah's ecosystem to develop best practices in research, education and ecology and create a sustainable model from which all other species, including people, will benefit.
The South African Cheetah Conservation Foundation has close links and assists in training and sharing program successes with other countries where cheetahs live, including Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Iran and Algeria. The organization's international program includes distributing materials, lending resources and support, and providing training through Africa and the rest of the world.
Re-introduction project in India
Asiatic cheetahs have been known to exist in India for a very long time, but as a result of hunting and other causes, cheetahs have been extinct in India since the 1940s. A captive propagation project has been proposed. Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh told the Rajya Sabha on 7 July 2009, "The cheetah is the only animal that has been described extinct in India in the last 100 years. We have to get them from abroad to repopulate the species." He was responding to a call for attention from Rajiv Pratap Rudy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). "The plan to bring back the cheetah, which fell to indiscriminate hunting and complex factors like a fragile breeding pattern is audacious given the problems besetting tiger conservation." Two naturalists, Divya Bhanusinh and MK Ranjit Singh, suggested importing cheetahs from Africa, after which they will be bred in captivity and, in time, released in the wild.
However, the plan to reintroduce the African cheetahs to India has been suspended after discovering the distinctness between the cheetahs from Asia and Africa, having been separated between 32,000 to 67,000 years ago.
In popular culture
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- In Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne (1523), the god's chariot is borne by cheetahs (which were used as hunting animals in Renaissance Italy). Cheetahs were often associated with the god Dionysus, whom the Romans called Bacchus.
- George Stubbs' Cheetah with Two Indian Attendants and a Stag (1764–1765) also shows the cheetah as a hunting animal and commemorates the gift of a cheetah to George III by the English Governor of Madras, Sir George Pigot
- The Caress (1896), by the Belgian symbolist painter Fernand Khnopff (1858–1921), is a representation of the myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx and portrays a creature with a woman's head and a cheetah's body (often misidentified as a leopard's).
- André Mercier's Our Friend Yambo (1961) is a curious biography of a cheetah adopted by a French couple and brought to live in Paris. It is seen as a French answer to Born Free (1960), whose author, Joy Adamson, produced a cheetah biography of her own, The Spotted Sphinx (1969).
- Hussein, An Entertainment, a novel by Patrick O'Brian set in India of the British Raj period, illustrates the practice of royalty keeping and training cheetahs to hunt antelopes.
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- Similarly, Roger Hunt successfully tames a cheetah in Willard Price's Safari Adventure, after rescuing it from an elephant pit trap. The cheetah soon befriends a German shepherd dog called Zulu.
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