Acinonyx Jubatus - The Cheetah

Commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa, the name "cheetah" comes from a Hindi word meaning "spotted one" or from the Sanskrit word "chitraka".

Did you know? The world’s fastest land animal the Cheetah is the most unique and specialized member of the cat family.

The cheetah is aerodynamically built for speed and can accelerate from zero to 40 mph in three strides and to full speed of 70 mph in seconds. As the cheetah runs, only one foot at a time touches the ground. There are two points, in its 20 to 25 foot stride when no feet touch the ground, as they are fully extended and then totally doubled up. Nearing full speed, the cheetah runs at about 3˝ strides per second.

Did you know? Listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, the cheetah population has decreased 30% over the last 18 years alone.

The cheetah’s respiratory rate climbs from 60 to 150 breaths per minute during a high-speed chase and can run only 400 to 600 yards before it is exhausted; at this time it is extremely vulnerable to other predators, which may not only steal its prey, but attack it as well.


An adult cheetah weighs 35 - 65 kilograms, stands about 81 centimeters tall at the shoulder and is approximately 120 - 145 centimeters long with another 70 to 80 in tail. The male cheetah are a little larger than females.


An adult has yellow or tan fur with solid black round or oval spots measuring 1.9 to 3.8 centimeters in diameter. The spots cover nearly the entire body, only the white throat and abdomen are unmarked. The tail ends with 4-6 black rings and a bushy, white tuft.

Did you know? The KING cheetah, now in evidence at the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre, has distinctive skin markings, as opposed to the usual spots.

The spot pattern plus the ring pattern on the tail enable the identification of specific cheetahs (by humans). The head is small with eyes set high and a black "tear mark" running from the inner aspect of each eye down to the mouth. The teeth are small to accommodate large nasal passages.


Commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa. Their range includes sparse sub-desert, steppe, medium and long-grass plains. They need bushes, tall grass and other large plants to hide from predators.


Cheetahs can be found in a variety of habitats all around South Africa, mostly contained within the safer borders of national parks and game reserves. The Kruger National Park has the largest cheetah population. Other parks and sanctuaries in which they can be found include The Cheetah Experience in Bloemfontein, Inverdoorn Game Reserve in the Karoo of the Western Cape Province, and the Cheetah Outreach at Spier in Stellenbosch, less than an hour from Cape Town.

The De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre facility has gained international recognition for bringing the cheetah back from the brink of extinction through its captive breeding programmes.

Diet - Carnivore

Once a cheetah has made a kill, it eats quickly and keeps an eye out for scavengers such as lions, leopards, hyenas, vultures and jackals who will occasionally take away their kills. Although cheetahs usually prey on the smaller antelopes such as Thomson's gazelles and impalas, they can catch wildebeests and zebras if hunting together. They also hunt hares and other small mammals and birds.


Sexual maturity occurs at 20-23 months.


Gestation is about 95 days and the average litter size is 4-5 cubs.

Life Expectancy

10 to 20 years


A shy creature that roams widely, the cheetah is not seen as easily as some other cats. Never numerous, cheetah have become extinct in many areas, principally due to shrinking habitat, loss of species to prey upon, disease and a high rate of cub mortality.

Differentiate Cheetah from Leopard by

  • Their spots – the leopard’s spots are known as rosettes as they cluster with a dark brown spot in the middle, whilst a cheetah has solid black dots
  • Their eyes – a cheetah has black tear grooves between the eyes and mouth
  • Their builds – the leopard (built for strength) is far stockier and more solid than the cheetah that is built for speed and is more slender with long legs

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