Forget Usain Bolt, the Cheetah is the fastest creature on land; capable of accelerating from 0 to over 100km/h (62 mph) is 3 seconds or less; that’s as fast as a 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia. Cheetahs are a marvel of evolution and with their sleek and slender builds and modified claws they are perfectly adapted to reach their maximum speeds with ease.
Cheetahs are sleek, slender cats with light frames, long legs and small heads. They can weigh anything from 21 – 72 kilograms (46 to 160 pounds). Their fur is tan coloured and they have small black spots all over their coats. Cheetahs are easily identified by the distinctive black ‘tear marks’ that run from the corner of their eyes down to their mouths, along the side of their noses. They rely on their colouring to act as camouflage, to aid them in stealthily creeping through the long grasses of the savannah plains while hunting.
Cheetahs were historically found in African and Asia and there are an estimated 12 000 of these graceful creatures alive and living wild in Africa today. Mostly active during the day, Cheetahs usually hunt during the early evening and late morning. Hunting regularly, Cheetahs are often unsuccessful in their attempts to catch their prey with only half of the chases resulting in a meal.
Cheetahs hunt by chasing their prey until they are exhausted, they then knock the animal to the ground and kill it with a suffocating bite to the neck. Their prey is usually Wildebeest calves, Impalas and other small hoofed animals. Small and vulnerable themselves, Cheetahs have to eat their prey quickly as other larger and more aggressive carnivores such as Hyaenas are known to steal the kill from them.
Sadly Cheetahs require a huge area to hunt their prey in and with the diminishing availability of land for their habitat, as well as the increase in levels of poaching and a decrease in numbers of prey, Cheetahs are now considered to be endangered.
Visitors on safari in South Africa may be lucky to view one of these beautiful creatures in the wild at one of the many of the magnificent game reserves in the country, but failing that there are also a number of wildlife conservation projects throughout the country. These conservation projects have been set up in an attempt to save the Cheetah from extinction and today visitors can tour one of these centres, meet and interact with the cheetahs and learn more about them and the conservation efforts that have been put in place to save them.