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Their spots help with camouflage, with each individual possessing a unique pattern of spots
Geographical Region: Africa
- Our Animals
- Distribution & Habitat
- Description & Behaviour
- Threats & Conservation
- Interesting information
Monarto’s original cheetahs were imported in 1999 from Hoedspruit, a breeding centre for endangered animals in South Africa. Many strategies were tried to achieve successful breeding.
Our first litter was born in 2003 and raised to adulthood by their mother. They now live in other Australian Zoos.
Born: 11 September 2004, Monarto Zoo
Personality: He was named after a rest camp in Kruger National Park because he is so relaxed.
Born: 11 September 2004, Monarto Zoo
Personality: A mischief-maker, his name means rascal.
Distribution & Habitat
Cheetahs are found in variety of habitats, including grasslands, savannahs, dense vegetation and mountainous terrain. They are usually found outside protected reserves as lion and hyena numbers are higher there and cheetahs cannot compete.
The former Cheetah range was from north east to southern India and all of Africa except equatorial forest and true desert. It is now extinct in Asia and North Africa.
Description & Behaviour
The cheetah is the fastest land mammal in the world! The cheetah’s flexible spine, oversized liver, enlarged heart, wide nostrils, increased lung capacity and thin muscular body help make this cat the swiftest hunter in Africa.
At full speed a cheetah can reach 110km/hr, covering 25 meters per second. A cheetah can cover up to 8 metres with each stride and can accelerate from 0 to 80km/hr in 3 seconds.
When sprinting, their temperature becomes so high (up to 41 degrees Celsius) it would kill them to continue, which is why it will rest after catching its prey. While resting, they risk losing their prey to larger predators. It takes 20 minutes for breathing and temperature to return to normal.
Cheetahs have a long limbed, slender, greyhound-like build. Adults weigh only 40-65kg. Males are up to 10 kg heavier than females and have a squarer head.
Cheetahs have blunt semi-retractable claws that offer extra grip in high-speed pursuits. Footpads are hard and less rounded than other cats and function like tire treads that increase traction in fast, sharp turns.
Their fur is short except for mane of longer hair at the nape and shoulders. This is the remnant of a much more extensive cape like covering of long grey-blue hair found on cubs. The black patch of soft fur behind each ear is believed to be an adaptation to resemble a pair of eyes.
Their spots help with camouflage. Each individual has a unique pattern of spots on its face and chest; scientists even use these spot patterns to recognise their study animals. The tail has spots, which merge to form four to six dark rings at the end and usually end in bushy white tuft. The black bands at end of tail different among individuals, and the tails of littermates resemble one another more closely than they resemble the tails of their mother and unrelated cheetahs
Cheetahs can see detail to a distance of 5km whereas humans with binoculars would have difficult seeing the same detail. Although they primarily rely on sight, cheetahs have excellent hearing and can hear the slightest sound and high frequencies.
Females live alone except when they are raising cubs. She does establish a territory but lives in a home range, which often overlap with other females’ home range. Cub learns survival skills from their mother for first 18 months. She then leaves and cubs form sibling group for another 6 months. At 2, female siblings leave and males stay together for life. Males will also sometimes live with unrelated males.
Some cheetah vocalisations:
- Chirp: high pitched bird-like chirp used when attempting to find each other, or a mother trying to locate cubs. These calls can be heard over a long distance and the intensity increases with excitement.
- Growl: often accompanied by hissing and spitting and used when annoyed or in danger. They may also lunge and slap the ground, alternately crouching and growling.
- Yowl: escalated version of growling when danger worsens
- Purr: will purr very loudly when content. The sound is like the purr of a domestic cat but much louder.
- Bleat: this sound expresses distress and is similar to meowing
- Stutter: a male on the trail of a female in heat will use this call. It is also used by a mother asking her cubs to follow closely.
Cheetahs have unusually low genetic variability and a very low sperm count. It is thought this is due to genetic bottleneck during last ice age.
Mating opportunities arise as female cheetahs pass through a number of male territories during their travels. Scientists have found that females often have cubs in each litter by different males. This may expose them to disease but also allows for possibility of genetic diversity. They can mate with multiple males as they produce a new egg each time they mate.
Gestation period is about 95 days, with average litter size of 4-5 cubs. Cubs are up to 30cm long and weigh 250-300 grams at birth. They are born completely helpless but develop rapidly. Although cub deaths rates are high, cheetahs have evolved to reproduce rapidly in response.
Cubs are smoky-grey with long hair, called a mantle, running along their backs until they are three months of age. The mantle is thought to camouflage cub in dead grass. Cubs are so well disguised by this cape of long hair that they can elude searching lions by scattering and hiding.
Cheetah’s main prey are small antelope. They will also hunt the young of larger mammals, warthog, hare and game birds. They hunt mainly late morning and early evening but hours vary slightly depending on temperature.
Cheetah’s kill by using “chase-trip-bite” technique. They stalk prey until it is within 10-30 metres before chasing. Once close, they lash out with a front foot and a specially designed rear claw (dewclaw) catches the hind leg of the victim, tripping it. To kill the animal, they cheetah grabs the winded animals’ throat in its jaws and clamps the windpipe shut, suffocating the prey. This can last up to 20 minutes.
The mother brings live prey to the cubs at 9-12 months and releases it in front of them to let the cubs attempt to catch it. This allows cubs to practice their hunting skills.
Unlike wild dogs or hyenas which tend to select their pretty during the chase portion of the hunt, cheetahs seem to focus on one animal before the chase begins and rarely switch targets during the chase. Cheetahs abandon nearly three-quarters of hunts in which they were detected during the stalking phase.
Threats & Conservation
In 1900, 100,000 cheetahs lived in 33 African countries and 11 Asian countries. In 1975, 3000 cheetahs lived in Africa. Only 100 survived in Iran. In 2000, 12,500 cheetahs live in 26 African countries. Only 200 survive in Iran.
Today there are less than 10,000 Cheetahs left in the wild. Their main threats are habitat loss and prey destruction. They are also particularly susceptible to feline diseases.
Namibia has world’s largest number with around 3,000 (20% of world population). 90% of these live on farmlands due to conflict with other predators in protected areas but this brings them into conflict with agriculture interests. Many farmers are now using livestock guarding dogs. These dogs do not herd stock but place themselves between stock and cheetah and bark loudly. Dog will attack if the predator persists but usually predator will leave.
To save the cheetah, conservation organisations are working help protect its habitat, aid the conservation of wild prey base, halt the indiscriminate capture and removal of cheetah, improve livestock and game management and educate people about the need to conserve biological diversity and the predators’ unique role in a health ecosystem.
Captive breeding programs are also considered essential for their survival. Very difficult to breed in captivity, through extensive research Monarto Zoo has become one of the most successful cheetah breeding facilities in Australasia.
- By the time cubs are four months old they are able to outrun lions and spotted hyenas. Survival rates of cubs improve markedly where lions and hyenas are absent.
- Cheetahs use their tail like a rudder to allow it to make sharp turns.
- Cheetahs can turn in midair while sprinting.
- Cheetah is similar size to leopard but is shorted bodied, longer tailed and taller so appears more streamlined
- The word “cheetah” derives its name from the Hindi word “chita”, meaning spotted or sprinkled. There are several other animals whose names are derived from word, including the chital or spotted deer and the chita-bora, a snake.
- Cheetahs were once raced against greyhounds for sport.
- Desmond Varaday counted the spots on his pet cheetah and came up with a total of 1,967 spots.
- The giant cheetah roamed China, southern Europe and India in large number through the Ice Age. It is believed that this large carnivore was as big as a lion and ran at speeds as fast as the modern day cheetah.
- World environment underwent drastic changes in Great Ice Age and throughout North America, Europe and Asia about 75% of mammal species vanished. Only a handful of cheetah survived, resulting in a genetic bottleneck. Cheetahs became inbred, meaning all cheetahs today are closely related.
- Some cheetahs have rare fur pattern mutation. Cheetahs with larger, blotchy, merged spots are known as ‘king cheetahs’. It was once though to be a separate subspecies. Other variations include speckles, melanism, albinism and grey coloration
- Traditional African healers and witch doctors used cheetah foot bones in spiritualistic rituals to symbolise fleet-footedness and speed
- Ancient Egyptians often kept cheetah as pets, and also tamed and trained them for hunting. Cheetahs would be taken to hunting fields in low-sided carts or by horseback, hooded and blindfolded, and kept on leashes while dogs flushed out their prey. When the prey was near enough, the cheetahs would be released and their blindfolds removed. This tradition was passed on to the ancient Persians and carried to India. This practice continued into the twentieth century by Indian princes.
- Ancient Egyptians considered the cheetah a goddess named “Mafdet”. Pharaohs kept cheetahs as close companions, symbolic of Mafdet’s protection of the royal throne.
- Kings wore cheetah skins for dignity. Trade in cheetah skins only started after European explorers began requesting them.
- Cheetahs and leopards have often been mistaken for each other. Cheetahs in early art were frequently called “panther” or “hunting leopard”. Artists have always pictured cheetahs as animals of speed and royalty.
- Cheetahs are often associated with royalty and elegance. Many princes and kings kept them as pets, including Genghis Khan and Charlemagne. Akbar the Great, ruler of the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1605, kept as many as 1000 cheetahs. As recently as the 1930s the Emperor of Abyssinia, Haile Selassie, was often photographed leading a cheetah by a leash.
- In Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne (1523), the god's chariot is borne by cheetahs (which were used as hunting animals in Renaissance Italy). Cheetahs were often associated with the god Dionysus, whom the Romans called Bacchus.
- André Mercier's Our Friend Yambo (1961) is a curious biography of a cheetah adopted by a French couple and brought to live in Paris. It is seen as a French answer to Born Free (1960), whose author, Joy Adamson, produced a cheetah biography of her own, The Spotted Sphinx (1969).
- Clare Bell's young adult novel Tomorrow's Sphinx (1986) is an unusual story from the point of view of a misfit cheetah living on an abandoned Earth far in the future.
- The animated series ThunderCats had a main character who was an anthropomorphic cheetah named Cheetara. In 1986 Frito-Lay introduced an anthropomorphic cheetah, Chester Cheetah, as the mascot for their Cheetos.
- Comic book superheroine Wonder Woman's chief adversary is Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva, alias The Cheetah
- The Japanese anime Damekko Doubutsu features a clumsy but sweet-natured cheetah named Chiiko.
- The Lamborghini Cheetah was Lamborghini’s first attempt at an off-road vehicle.