The Cheetah's body is built for speed. It's legs are relatively long compared to its greyhound-like body; it has a big heart and lungs and wide nasal passages. It is the fastest land animal, timed running at speeds of up to 114km/h.
While the lion and the leopard rely on getting close to their intended prey before breaking cover, the cheetah's speed gives it an advantage in the more open savanna. Cheetahs are slightly taller than leopards but not as bulky, probably weighing between 40kg and 60kg.
Although cheetahs are members of the cat family, they have dog-like non-retractable claws. This limits their tree-climbing ability but gives them a speed advantage when charging.Typically, a cheetah will start a charge 60m to 100m from an antelope and, within seconds, will be racing at full tilt. If the buck is alerted in time, it will attempt to throw the cheetah off its trail by zigzagging and dodging between trees and shrubs. Using its long, heavy tail as a stabiliser, the cheetah will single-mindedly pursue its intended prey, trying to anticipate which way it will turn.At the right moment, it will knock the antelope off balance and grab it by the throat as it falls. Because of the relatively small jaws and teeth, cheetahs are not as effective in killing their prey as quickly as lions or leopards, and it can take between five and 25 minutes for its prey to die.
Unlike lions and leopards, cheetah don't define a territory to defend. They have a home range which they mark with urine, but will not actively fight off other cheetahs. Socially, cheetahs are somewhere on the scale between lions and leopards.
They do not form prides as lions do but small groups of between four and six cheetahs can be common, particularly groupings of brothers. Cheetah probably live for between 12 and 15 years in the wild. Unlike most other major carnivores, they hunt during the day.Despite their speed, cheetahs still rely heavily on the element of surprise. Experts believe that a cheetah has a one-in-10 chance of catching an animal that isn't taken by surprise, and that this rises to a one-in-two chance if the quarry is caught off-guard. Cheetahs are the most timid of the big cats and there is no record in southern Africa of a cheetah ever having attacked a human.