The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, the fastest land predator on Earth, is in danger of extinction, primarily due to loss of its habitat, inbreeding and high infant mortality.
Mammalia, Carnivora, Felidae
1.50 m long + 80-cm tail; 90 cm max at the shoulder; 60 kg at the most
~ 3 months, 3 to 5 babies
Wooded savannahs, semi-desert plains
gazelles, warthogs, hares, guinea fowl
Way of life
Females live alone with their offspring. They are not territorial but they avoid each other, unlike males who can stay with their brothers. The strongest one will mate with one or more females that live in their territory. The couple only stays together for one or two days Births take place in a discreet spot.
For the first three months of their lives, young cheetahs have a silver mane along their back which gives them better camouflage in the grass. However, young cheetahs are still moved almost every day by their mothers in order to avoid predators. Despite this, more than 90% of young cheetahs don't live beyond the age of one, with the majority being killed by lions and hyenas.
Those lucky enough to survive leave their mother at the age of around 20 months.
With a lightly-built and slender body, an incredibly flexible spine, a tail that serves as a rudder, long legs, semi-retractable claws and a well-developed set of lungs, the cheetah has all the assets needed to secure its status as the fastest mammal on the planet! Unlike other felines who hunt at night by lying in wait, they hunt by day, on sight and on open terrain.
While it can run as fast as 110 km/h, it can’t last for longer than 400 m! This sprinter must then recover. This is a critical moment as, if it managed to catch its prey, a hyena could take the opportunity to steal it while the cheetah is out of breath and helpless. So that the effort expended does not exceed the energy input from its prey, it prefers to attack animals that are injured, sick, old or very young and easier to catch.
The cheetah was a highly sought-after pet, trained to hunt in Ancient Egypt and until the 19th century in Persia and Arabia. The intensive capturing of this animal, who does not reproduce easily in captivity, has led to a critical decline in its numbers. Often hunted for its fur or slaughtered by farmers to protect their herds, the cheetah has become a truly endangered species. There are fewer than 10,000 individuals left in the wild.
High levels of inbreeding have resulted in a low reproduction rate, genetic abnormalities and high susceptibility to diseases and the fragmentation of its ever-shrinking habitat has made reproduction very difficult. Its survival depends in part on breeding programmes and research on its behaviour, nutrition and reproduction.
The Asian subspecies, which can now only be found in Iran, is on the brink of extinction with only around sixty individuals in the wild.