ANIMAL DIVERSITY – THE BIG CATS: CHEETAH

Almost everyone knows that the cheetah is the fastest land animal on earth, but this gorgeous cat  also has many other amazing characteristics that I want to share with you, along with my photos of them in the wilds of Africa.

First of all – their speed. For short sprints, cheetahs can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds and at full blast can reach 70 mph – that acceleration rate is faster than most cars.  In addition, they are the only cat that can reverse direction in mid-air, helping them to catch their prey. They have keen eyesight and unlike other cats they are daytime hunters.

Why are they so fast?  Take a look at that long, lean body, perfectly streamlined for minimum wind resistance.  That body also contains a number of speed inducing  factors:

  • Bones are extremely lightweight
  • Claws are only semi-retractable, offering optimum traction
  • Vertical shoulder blades are not attached to the collarbone
  • Flexible spine that works like a spring
  • Long muscular flat tail acts as a rudder to make split second turns

Spotted coats offer them camouflage by offsetting shadows  in the high grasses, making it difficult for them to be seen while they are stalking..

Cheetahs are the lightest of all the big cats, which also contributes to its speed and agility:

  • Cheetah – 99lbs
  • Leopard – 176 lbs
  • Puma – 187 lbs
  • Jaguar – 220 lbs
  • Lion – 495 lbs
  • Tiger – 671 lbs

Another distinction that separates the cheetah is the fact that it cannot roar.  It chirps.

It also  purrs, growls and hisses

Unlike lionesses, female cheetahs are solitary, living alone or just with their young. The males live in groups of 2–3 brothers, known as coalitions.   The male cheetahs don’t stay with the females after mating. Female cheetahs can have from 2-8 cubs.

I was lucky enough to to see a mom and her two sons on the first day of my safari.  She was trying to teach them how to hunt, but they were more interested in lounging.  A number of times the mom reversed her walk to go back to her sons to nip at them to follow her.

At one time cheetahs were wide spread across Africa and Asia, but competition from larger cats combined with their need for large habitats that ran into the spread of humans, resulted in the loss of  89% of their range,  They are now found mostly in Africa’s nature reserves and parks at a population of about 7500 -10,000. Cheetahs are  classified as vulnerable and are Africa’s most endangered big cat.

Let me end with some of my portraits of these beautiful animals who,  like many others need our protection.

 

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