Although it is not a member of the four "Big Cats", the Cheetah can hold its own considerably well on the open plain. Weighing in at only 90 lb. it has been known to take down animals as large as gnu (though it prefers Thompson's Gazelle). It is earth's fastest land animal, accelerating from 0 to 62 mph in under four seconds (faster than most supercars) and maintaining top speeds of 70 mph in short burst for up to 500 yards.

Acinonyx Jubatus

The Cheetah (derived from Hindi word chiitaa, which comes from the Sanscrit word Chitraka meaning "the spotted one" is an atypical member of the Felidae family that hunts by speed, rarely employinng the use of stealth and hunting parties as many of its larger counterparts would. It has a slender long legged body, with blunt semiretractible claws. Even when retracted, the claws remain visible and are used for grip during the cheetahs acceleration and manuvering, performing the same function as canine claws. Attributes that allow the cheetah's speed include a deep chest, narrow waist, large nostrils that permit maximum oxygen intake, and an enlarged heart and lungs that work together to circulat oxygen efficiently. While in the heat of a chase, in addition to straight semi-retractable claws the cheetah uses its unsusually long tail like a partially suspended rudder, allowing it to make the sharp turns neccessary to catch bobbing and darting prey (such as Thompson's Gazzelle). The cheetah aslo has distinguishing black "tear streaks" which run from run from its eyes down to the sides of it's mouth.

The cheetahs hunting tatics are different than many other big cats on the plain. Becuase of the speed at which it prey can move it must spot them from long distances before making its approach. Trusting to its eagle like vision, it normally pounces up on a rock or some other high vantage point so that it can spot prey more easily. Once they prey is spotted they Cheetah will move in as close as it can before accelerating to it's full speed. When the chase begins the Cheetah accellerates as fast as it can, following they the animal the cuts and turns to sharp for other predators to keep up with (the cheetah never changes its target). The Gazelle or antelope is brought to the ground a snag in the hindquarters. After a dust billowing tumble the cheetah jumps to its feet moves to the fron of its catch and bites down hard on its throat, so that the animal actually dies of suffocation rather than blood loss.

Cheetahs ahve a unique, well structured social order mildly social felids living in bands of 2 to 8 individuals. Females typically live on their own especially when rearing cubs. Unlike most felids Cheetahs are born with their characteristic spots. They also have a small tuft of fur on the back of their necks, called a mantle, which disappears as they mature. Death rate among cheetah cubs soars as high as 90 percent (usually owed to ther predator like hyenas, lions or eagles. The mother carefully guards the ones that due survive until they 18 months old. Despite the abscence of their mother the Cheetahs stay together forming a "sib" or group for another six months. At the age of two years the females go off on their own. The young brothers of the group wills stay together for life. Cheetahs average 12 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity.

By Marcel Raphael.
Voice over by Dr. Brian Child, associate professor of the Department of Geography in the University of Florida.
Copyright 2006.