Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cheetah

Profile with "Tearmarks"
The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is the only living member of it's genus and is found in populations across east and south Africa, though they historically had a much wider range that spread throughout Asia. Other, now extinct members of the genus, including the Giant Cheetah, spread into Europe as well. Cheetahs have long, slender bodies, and are smaller in size than many other big cats. Their top weight is around 140lbs (64kg).

Leopards, Jaguars, and Cheetahs are all spotted big cats, but Cheetahs are easy to distinguish based on their body shape. They possess deep chests, long legs, and small heads that sport two well defined black "tearmark" streaks that run from the eyes to the snout. The physical features of the Cheetah all serve to enhance their speed and hunting style. For example, they have claws that only partially retract and serve as "cleats" for running traction. Their small heads also have small teeth that allow for larger nasal passages and easier breathing while on the hunt and while in recovery from a chase.

Cheetah Family
Cheetahs are the fastest of all land animals, and also have the unique ability among big cats of being able to turn in midair. They are able to sprint to speeds of up to 70mph (112kph), but can only maintain these chases for a short distance before they get over-exerted. Only about half of all chases result in a successful kill, and they cost the Cheetah a tremendous amount of energy. If prey is caught, the Cheetah kills them by clamping over the mouth and suffocating them. The cat must them consume the meal quickly before larger predators arrive and try to scavenge. One Cheetah fact that I found particularly interesting is that they only need to drink every three or four days!

Female and Male Cheetahs mix only to mate. Females give birth, typically to a littler of three, and those cubs will stay with her for about a year and a half, learning to hunt and survive. Males Cheetahs often live in small groups, typically with their brothers.

Cheetahs are listed as Vulnerable, and it is estimated that there are around 12,000 left in the wild. Habitat loss, human encroachment, loss of prey, and loss of genetic diversity are all threats to the species.

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