African Cheetahs

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus and Species: Acinonyx jubatus


The Cheetah’s name comes from the Hindi word “chita,” meaning “spotted one.” Often referred to as the world’s fastest animal, African Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are members of the ‘Big Cat’ family.


Known as the fastest land animal in the world, cheetahs are built for speed. They can be easily identified by their slender body, concave back, long legs, and rounded head with small rounded ears.

The most distinctive characteristics of these big cats is their solid-spotted tan coats, their long rudder-like tails that they use for ‘steering’ themselves whilst running (and which are half the length of their head and body), and, of course, their signature “tear stain” black which trail from the inner corners of each eye, down to the mouth. 

Like leopards (Panthera pardus) cheetahs have black spots scattered across their tan coats. But whereas leopard spots are arranged in rosette (rose-like) patterns, cheetahs’ spots are solid, fairly uniform in size, and are evenly distributed — except for the white throat and belly.


Average adult cheetahs measure two metres from the snout to the tip of the tail, have a mass of 40 – 60 Kg’s (88 – 132 lbs), and stand about 800mm in height.


A cheetah’s main prey is medium to small antelope such as impala, steenbok, warthogs, duikers and springbok. Only about half of their chases are successful, so cheetahs are very careful to pick a weakened or smaller targets. 

Whilst there are records of male cheetahs grouping together to hunt larger prey (such as wildebeest and young zebras), they usually hunt alone. Cheetahs will also hunt baboons, hares, monkeys and terrestrial birds (such as ground hornbills, bustards and guinea fowl).

Cheetahs are carnivores, which means they eat meat. Their claws and teeth are specifically adapted for catching and eating their prey. Because their teeth are shorter than those of other big cats, according to the Smithsonian, cheetahs suffocate their prey by clamping down on the animal’s throat with their strong jaws, rather than sinking their teeth deep into their prey’s flesh.

As they are short distance runners, they typically prefer the element of surprise when hunting. Cheetahs will creep up on their prey and won’t initiate the chase until their prey starts to flee.

Because they use so much of their energy chasing after their prey, after catching something, a cheetah must rest for about 30 to 45 minutes before they can eat their catch. However, if a larger predator, like a lion or hyena appears before they can consume their meal, they will often abandon their catch to avoid conflict and potential injury from a fight.  

Location and Habitat

Cheetahs have to be able to run fast and avoid larger predators who might steal their prey or kill their cubs. Unlike leopards and lions, they can’t climb trees or defend themselves against hyenas, so densely populated areas, thick bush velds and forests are not suitable habitats for cheetahs to live in. 

They typically favour open grasslands and savannas, but can be found in a range of habitats across eastern and southern Africa. Vast open areas like the Karoo in the Western Cape, the southern regions of Kruger National Park, and even the semi-desert plains of Namibia, are preferred territories for wild cheetah sightings. 

two adult cheetahs pictured running at full speed down a dirt road at Inverdoon Private Game Reserve

How Fast Can Cheetahs Run?

Cheetahs are incredible short distance runners. They can go from zero to 100 kph (62 mph) in less than three seconds, and their top speed has been recorded at 120 kph (75 mph).

Recognised as the fastest land animal in the world, these incredible big cats are often compared to the fastest sports cars. And, although they are only short distance runners, cheetahs can reach speeds of up to 120kph (75 mph).

But they’re not only fast, they have amazing acceleration too. They’ve been known to accelerate from 0 to 72 kph (45 mph) in just 2.5 seconds, and have been recorded increasing their speed by 10 kph (6 mph) in a single stride.


Despite their impressive speed, cheetahs are most active during cooler mornings and evenings, spending the hot midday hours resting in the shade. They rely heavily on sight for hunting, so you might find them perched on termite mounds scanning the vast savanna for prey. Unlike other big cats (lions, leopards, jaguars and tigers), cheetahs are diurnal, which means they’re awake during the day and sleep during the night.

African cheetahs’ social lives are fascinating. Adult females are solitary hunters and raise their cubs alone. Males, on the other hand, can be found solo or in “coalitions” of brothers. These coalitions, typically two to three cheetahs, form a strong bond and defend a territory together, increasing their chances of mating success against lone males. They’re also surprisingly social creatures, spending time grooming and communicating with each other.


Cheetahs have a unique relationship with territory. Unlike lions or leopards with well-defined areas they fiercely defend, cheetahs occupy vast home ranges. These can span hundreds of square kilometres, especially for females hunting prey across open plains.

Territory comes into play more for breeding males. They establish smaller territories of around 15-30 square kilometres, which they mark with scent to advertise their dominance and attract females. However, these territories often overlap, and conflicts are usually limited to chases and displays rather than full-blown brawls.

This balance between needing space to hunt and the importance of mating opportunities shapes the interesting social dynamics of cheetahs.


African cheetahs are interesting in that they can breed year-round, unlike many other large cats. Females and males generally reach sexually maturity and can start breeding around two years old.

Females will advertise their receptiveness to breeding through scent marking. This alerts any male cheetahs passing through her territory that she is looking for a mate. Females may mate with multiple males during a short oestrus cycle, and litters typically range from two to six cubs.

Unfortunately, cheetah cub survival is low, with predation by other animals being a major threat. After a three-month gestation period, the cubs are born helpless and rely solely on their mother for care. These vulnerable young ones won’t become independent for about a year, with males dispersing much further than females.

Facts about Cheetahs

Scientists estimate that fewer than 8,000 African cheetahs are living in the wild today.

According to the Smithsonian, there were at least 100,000 cheetahs living throughout Western Asia and across Africa in 1900. Now, the cats are extinct in at least 13 of their native countries and have lost as much as 90% of their original range. 

The cheetahs’ steep population decline is tied to habitat loss, human conflict, and illegal trade and poaching.

Conservation efforts are underway to help the population rebound. Animal rescue groups, such as ARC, work locally with communities near cheetah populations to create awareness and teach sustainable solutions for agriculture and population growth. Protected areas and private game reserves, such as Inverdoorn’s Cheetah Conservation Project in the Western Cape, South Africa, help to protect cheetahs and restore their natural habitats.

Unlike other large cats, cheetahs can’t roar. But they can purr just like house cats.

A cheetah sounds nothing like you would expect. Compared to other African big cats, cheetahs have a wide range of sounds and calls, including yelping, chirping, hissing, and even something akin to a low-bellied ‘meow’. Their most distinctive call is a sharp ‘chirping’ sound (similar to a dog’s yelp) which can be heard up to 1.5 – 2 km (1 mile) away. 

Cheetahs are incredible short distance runners. They can go from zero to 100 kph in less than three seconds. Their top speeds has been recorded at 120 kph.

Yes, cheetahs are the fastest land animals in the world. Although they are only short distance runners, cheetahs can reach speeds of up to 120kph (75 mph).

But they’re not only fast, they have amazing acceleration too. They’ve been known to accelerate from 0 to 72 kph (45 mph) in just 2.5 seconds, and have been recorded increasing their speed by 10 kph (6 mph) in a single stride.

A cheetahs spots make it harder for prey to ‘spot’ them. It’s all about camouflage!

Cheetahs’ spotted coats help them blend into the environment when resting, hunting, and when hiding from larger predators. Much like human fingerprints, these a cheetah’s markings are unique to each cat.

Cheetahs are diurnal, which means they’re most active during the day and sleep during the night. As they rely on high speeds and fast sprints to catch their prey, they tire easily while hunting. Typically, cheetahs can be seen patrolling their environment or hunting for prey during the early hours of the morning (shortly after sunrise) or late in the afternoon to avoid the midday heat.

Baby or young cheetahs are called “cubs”. A female cheetah will usually give birth to a litter of 2 to 6 cubs at a time, and will remain under her care and protection until they’re about 1 years old.