Like all big cats, cheetahs are sleek, majestic, and very different from the fat, lazy feline lounging in front of your fire. Cheetahs are best known for their phenomenal turn of speed, but although this is undoubtedly a useful advantage in the hostile world of the African plains, life is still very difficult for cheetahs, especially those with cubs to nurture to maturity.
1. A cheetah is faster than the average sports car: he can accelerate from 0 to 114 kph in just 3 seconds. This burst of speed makes cheetahs the fastest mammals on earth. However, if they try and keep this speed up for more than 30 seconds, their lungs are in serious danger of bursting.
2. Cheetahs are the smallest of the big cats. When fully grown, a male cheetah will reach a shoulder height of up to 2.8 feet and weight up to 150 pounds. When the tail is included, a cheetah will reach up to 4.5 feet in length; the male is usually larger than the female.
3. Cheetahs have a long history of being associated with royalty and aristocracy and they were once domesticated by man and used for hunting antelope. The ancient Egyptians kept cheetahs as pets and trained them to hunt: dogs flushed the prey out and cheetahs were sent in for the kill. Genghis Khan was believed to have kept cheetahs as pets and even as recently as the 1930s, the Emperor of Ethiopia had a pet cheetah.
4. Cheetah cubs have a very high mortality rate, around 90%, which is partly the reason the species is almost on the verge of extinction with very few cheetahs left in the wild. Many cheetah cubs fall prey to lions, hyenas and other predators, and female cheetahs have a tough job raising their young. Other factors include a low genetic diversity thanks to very small numbers of breeding pairs remaining in the wild.
5. Unlike other big cats, cheetahs do not roar loudly. However, they do purr like domestic cats—not necessarily as a way of expressing pleasure, but more as a form of verbal communication with their cubs and other cheetahs.
6. The cheetah is known as Acinonyx jubatus, the genus name being “acinonyx”, which means “no move claw”. This is a reference to the cheetah’s non-retractable claws. They use their claws and tail to control speed and direction when chasing prey.
7. Cheetahs have unique markings and the black rings on the end of the tail can identify individual cats. An extremely rare type of cheetah known as the “King Cheetah” has larger blotchy spots on its back, the result of a recessive gene.
8. Cheetahs have no natural enemies, but other big cats and predators often kill their young.
9. Cheetah cubs are born with a large mantle of thick fur around their neck. This is thought to help disguise the cubs from potential predators and is shed as the cubs mature.
10. Female cheetahs are solitary, but males form social groups and remain together for life.
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