Cheetahs: Unable to Outrun Danger
As fast as cheetahs are, it is difficult for these big cats to outrun the threats their species faces. Today, there are approximately 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild. Their endangerment is largely due to the loss of their habitat, conflict with humans and other cats, and low genetic diversity.
How Nikela Helps
Although Nikela does not have a project that directly protects the Cheetah we have eReports and run awareness campaigns addressing the plight of the species. Read “Cheetah Conservation: What’s Working? What isn’t?”, “Cheetah Conservation: What is Really Happening?”
Facts about the Cheetah
Cheetahs have been found from Africa and the Middle East to Asia and India, but now can only be found in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and a small portion of Iran. They occupy habitats such as open savannas.
Cheetahs generally have tan coats with solid black spots that range in size. Each cheetah has a unique pattern of spots that allow it to be camouflaged in the grasses of the savanna while it is stalking its prey. Distinct black “tear” marks that stretch from the eye to the nose also help identify cheetahs. Cubs are typically born with darker coats that gradually lighten in color. Also, a gray coat on their backs, called a mantle disappears as they mature.
The entire body structure of the cheetah is made to provide the animal with extreme speed. Its paws have non-retractable claws that give it traction, much like cleats; its two-foot long tail works like a rudder, enabling it to make changes in direction quickly; and its small head and lean body frame minimizes air resistance when running.
Cheetahs eat mainly hoofed animals such as gazelles, deer, impalas, and wildebeest. They will sometimes hunt smaller prey such as hares or guinea fowl.
Cheetahs are solitary cats, with males living alone or in small groups with their brothers. Females live with their cubs for one to two years until they are old enough to live and hunt on their own.
They are diurnal with excellent day vision. They conduct most of their hunts during the day. However, cheetahs are built for speed and thus, have some difficulty making successful hunts as their small head means smaller teeth and jaws, plus their blunt claws make it challenging to grab and hold onto their prey.
Because they are not equipped to be the best hunters, cheetahs really rely on their speed to outrun their prey. Due to the large energy demand on cheetahs when they are chasing their prey, hunts are over within a minute. Once they reach their target, cheetahs use their teeth to suffocate their prey. They have another challenge, they must eat their kill quickly to avoid losing it to larger predators.
Conservation status and threats
The cheetah is the most endangered of all of Africa’s big cat species and is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List. Habitat loss is a main factor for the decline in population of wild cheetahs, as well as encounters with ranchers who shoot cheetahs on the assumption that the felines threaten their livestock. In addition, cheetahs do not fare well in competition with other big cats, such as the lion and the leopard, due to their weakness as hunters. Thus, cheetahs often lose their kills to and have difficulty protecting their cubs from these larger predators. Furthermore, a steady demand for cheetahs as pets has also caused a decline in their population. Because cheetahs do not reproduce well in captivity due to particular mating habits, many people who sell cheetahs illegally often capture more and more from the wild in order to fuel the demand for the sale of these cats. Lastly, a mass extinction twelve-thousand years ago left behind only a small group of cheetahs, which have since then reproduced. However, the bottleneck effect of that disaster has caused a limited gene pool for cheetahs, which greatly affects their survival to this day.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Shaira Ramirez