THE    CHEETAH

  (Acinonyx Jubatus )
During the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs, the cheetah was considered a goddess named "Mafdet"  The Pharaohs kept cheetah as close companions, symbolic of Mafdet's protection of the royal throne.

In 1700BC, the Egyptians were the first to tame the cheetah.  It was admired for it's speed, hunting ability and beauty.  They honoured the cheetah as symbols of royalty and prestige.  Until the early 1900's ownership of cheetahs was as important to these nobles as their love for gold.  Cheetahs hunt by sight so they excelled in the sport known as 'coursing'.  Hunts organised by royalty and nobles were for the challenge of sport, not for food.  Hunts represented power and prestige.

By the 1500s the popularity of the cheetah as a hunting companion rivaled that of the dog.  Cheetah, the most easily tamed of the big cats, were caught tamed and trained.  Adults were used as cubs had not leaned how to hunt.  Tamed cheetah formed a strong bond with their keepers.

Each cheetah rode to the hunt on horseback (poor horse!) or on a cart,.  Its eyes were covered with a hood (much like falcons are) and uncovered when prey was sighted.  The cat was released to chase down the prey then rewarded with meat fed from a wooden spoon.

Although cherished, pampered cheetahs were loved to near extinction and taken from the wild in great numbers.  By the early 1900's India and Iran were importing African Cheetah for the sport of coursing as their own wild populations became too small.

Through the 1900's world development, industrialization, automobiles, aircraft and man's inventions seemed limitless, yet there is nothing man-made that rivals the speed and efficiency of the cheetah.



















Although it appeared that the cheetah had a large range, their numbers within that range existed only in small pockets.  Cheetah, farmers and their livestock all preferred open grasslands for their habitat.  Increasing agricultural development and new settlements played havoc with remaining cheetah populations.

As human populations grew in the 1970's, the amount of land devoted to livestock farming steadily increased.  Livestock filled the land where cheetah roamed.  Natural prey became a scarce.  Farmers killed other large predators.  Although game reserves protected them, cheetah could not compete against lion & hyena.  Farmlands offered the cheetah a safe haven, but sometimes they killed livestock.

Farmers saw cheetah more frequently and though that their numbers had increased.  Cheetah took the blame for most predator-related livestock losses.  Farmers killed cheetah by the thousand as pets or to sell their skins to the fur trade.

By 1975 researchers realised that the cheetah was in trouble (took their time didn't they??) CITES placed the cheetah on Appendix 1, making international trade in live cheetah or cheetah products illegal.  Local laws supported CITES in many countries where cheetah still lived.  Researchers began looking for ways to encourage the growth of cheetah populations through land management policies.

It took 4,000,000 years for the cheetah to evolve into the unique animal it is today. it has taken man LESS than 100 years to place it on the endangered list.  In 1900 there were 100,000 cheetah in 33 African countries  and 11 Asian countries.  In 1975 there were 30,000 cheetah in the whole of Africa and only 100 in Iran.  in 2000 only 12,500 cheetah lived in 26 African countries.  Only 200 survived in Iran. 

IN ONE CENTURY MAN HAS REDUCED THE CHEETAH POPULATION TO LESS THAN 13% OF IT'S ORIGINAL POPULATION.

This is typical of man's greed to want everything within sight, and to the devil with everything else.

Namibia has the world's largest cheetah population.  Approximately 3,000 cheetah share the land with humans, livestock and wildlife.

Today the status of the Namibian cheetah is stabilizing.  During the 1980's the population of Namibian cheetah declined by half.  In this 10 year period nearly 7,000 cheetah were removed from the wild.

In most countries where cheetah live, their numbers have been reduced to critical levels. 

THE CHEETAH'S SURVIVAL WORLDWIDE, IS IN HUMAN HANDS.

In Namibia nearly 1,000 Farmers control the fate of the country's cheetah on whose  land they live.  To survive cheetah need land and prey.  A hone range covers several thousand hectare. They prefer to eat wild game meat.  When game numbers drop the cheetah is forced to hunt domestic stock.

In South Africa, the De Wildt Cheetah Reserve, is one of the few places that have successfully bred cheetah in captivity, so much so that they now export cheetah to re-stock various game reserves.














The worlds' fastest land animal. is built for speed.  Acceleration from 0 - 84 kph is just 3 seconds! with a full speed of 100 kph, means that the cheetah can out-perform a sports car!

Cheetah are markedly different in both anatomy and behaviour from the other 36 species of cat.  They are the only species in their genus.  Until the 1900's they were often thought to be related to dogs rather than cats.  Cheetah are the only big cat that cannot roar, although they do purr, and a wide variety of chirps and croaks.

They are lightweight in relation to the other large cats, they rely on speed and skill for survival.

Their bodies are narrow and lightweight with long slender limbs, specialized muscles allow great freedom, increasing acceleration.

The tail acts as a rudder, stabilizing and acting as a counter weight to it's body weight. allowing sharp turns at high speed.

Their long legs and unique body structure, flexible spine and non retractile claws and it';s long tail allow the cheetah to achieve it's incredible top speed.

A single stride can be 7 metres, with four strides per second. A stride is one cycle with each foot touching the ground.  There are two 'times' in one stride when the cheetah's whole body is off the ground, once when all four legs are extended, and once when bunched under the body.  One foot touches the ground during the other points of the stride.
















ALTHOUGH NOT AT FULL RUN, THIS PHOTO
DEMONSTRATES THE "ONE FOOT" ATTITUDE


The cheetah's foot pads are hard and not as round as those of other cats, the pads function like tyres treads proving increased traction in fast sharp turns.

The short blunt claws work like the studs on an athletic shoe, providing more traction and help to increase speed.  The claws are semi retractable, meaning that they do not completely retract like those of other cats, they foot structure is very dog-like.

The dewclaws are located like any other dewclaw, partway up the leg onthe inside, they are sharp and are frequently used to hook and hold prey.

Cheetah's eyes are high set and like all predators face forward, and are capable of binocular vision.  The field of vision is far greater than that of humans.  (210 degrees and opposed to 140)

The cheetah cannot see as well as other cats at night.  They have excellent vision for distant objects and may even see some colours.  They can see details up to a distance of 5km, while humans with binoculars would have difficulty in seeing the same details.

Although they rely primarily on sight, they have excellent hearing.  They are able to hear the slightst sound and high frequencies.  Human ears cannot detect many of the sounds that are heard by cheetah.  Their ears are small and round, a black patch of soft fur behind each ear is believed to be an adaptation to resemble a pair of eyes. 

They have the distinctive "tear marks" that run from the inside corner of the eye to the outside corner of the mouth.  The stripes are thought to protect the eyes from the sun's glare, it is believed they have the same function as a riflescope, helping focus on prey.

Their teeth are adapted to support their eating style, by eating fast, they avopid losing their prey to other predators.  Teeth are adapted to rip and tear.

The canines (eye teeth) are used for gripping and holding whilst their prey is being suffocated.  Their canines are smaller and less developed than those of leopard or lion.

The incisors are used for plucking fur and skinning the carcass.

Adult cheetah are easily distinguished from other cats by their coat patterns.  The colour and spots are a form of camouflage.  This helps the cheetah hunt prey and hide from other predators.  Camouflage is a feature that belnds and hides an animal in it's environment.  Colour ranges from a light to darkish tan with the dark spots.





































A female cheetah's gestation period is between 90-93 days, a litter of between 3-5 cubs will be born in a secluded spot in tall grass, in thick undergrowth or near rocks.

When born they are like nearly all other animals, blind & helpless, eyes open from 10-14 days, and their baby teeth will start to break through their gums at about 3 weeks.
They will start eating meat at 6-8 weeks.  They will stop suckling at about 4 months old.
Games they play at this stage and the experiences they have now will teach them the skills necessary to survive on their own.

The female will move her litter frequently, to prevent a build up of scent in the den, which would attract other predators to the area.

Young cubs are vulnerable to being preyed on by lion, leopard and hyena.

Until they reach about 3 months of age, they have a mantle of thick fur on their back, this helps to camouflage the cubs by blending into shadows & grass.

Young cheetah will explore and investigate their surroundings, their their play behaviour they stalk, pounce chase and box, wrestle and have tugs of war with their siblings, play behaviour helps them develope strength and co-ordination.  Play is important for learning and practising hunting skills.  They will also trip each other from the rear, this is typical when catching prey.  They will chase and try to catch many different species of small birds, such as francolin or guiniea fowl.

Cheetah cubs watch their mother hunt, she will also bring in live prey, such as a young gazelle to the young cubs, she will release it in front of the cubs and they will attempt to catch it.  This allows them to practice their hunting skills whilst still under her care.  Accurate timing and co-ordination during the hunt are important for their future survival.

Cubs will 'leave home' when they are about 18-22 months old, they will rermain together for up to 6 months,  Eventually the females will seek out their own territory, whilst the males will usually form a coalition and will stay together, probably for life.

They have a variety of calls, they do not roar as do lion.

They can purr like a domestic cat.

There is the "Stuttering Call"  of a male on the trail of a female in season. Which is also used by a female asking her cubs to follow closely.. a bit like   "aaa-ow aaa-ow"

Growling & hissing is just like a domestic cat, and for the same reason.  They will also lunge and slap the ground alternately crouching and growling. (they WILL NOT attack a human... they will hiss spit, growl and slap the ground, quite unlike the lion who WILL!)

Bleating; this is a distress call and is similar to a plaintive meow by the domestic cat.

Then there is the "Ihn-Ihn"  call that a mother will use to call her cubs, which she will alternate with chirping, like a bird.


The cheetah is a small cat, measuring aproximately 73cm at shoulder height.  They weigh between 34 - 54kg and body length is 112 - 135mc amd tail length about 66 - 84cm.

Their life expectancy in the wild is between 10 - 12 years, and in captivity up to 17 years.


When kept in captivity, at feeding times when meat is tossed over the fence. they MUST be able to follow it with their eyes, or they will not find it.



KING CHEETAH:

It was thought for a long time that this was a separate species, but it was discovered that it is just a different coat pattern, having stripes along the back & sides, instead of spots.

This is generated by a recessive gene, which must be possessed by both parents.

In a litter of cubs there may be one "King" amongst 'normal' siblings.