Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
Population: 7,500 adults in the wild
Height: 30 in at shoulder
Weight: 110 to 140 lbs
Habitat: Open plains
Range: Southern and eastern Africa
The cheetah is made to run and is the fastest land animal in the world - it has long muscular legs, small round head on a long neck, a flexible spin and deep chest, a long tail to help with balance, special pads on their feet and non-retractable claws (the only cat that can't retract their claws) for traction. Cheetahs coats are tan with black spots and they have a distinctive black strip that runs from the corner of their eye down around the mouth that is thought to help reduce glare. The cheetah hunts small prey like gazelle or impala, as well as small mammals and birds. They rely on tall grass to camouflage them as they sneak up on their prey, getting as close as possible, before trying to outrun its target. The cheetah is a timid hunter, so once it has made a kill, it eats quickly watching for any scavengers or larger mammals who will steal its meal.
Cheetahs are solitary animals - males are typically alone or with a small group of brothers and females are alone with their cubs. Females spend a long time raising her cubs (2 to 4 in a litter) and teaching them to hunt. She will bring back live, small antelope for her cubs to chase. Mother cheetahs will move their cubs to new hiding places every few days. Unfortunately, 50 to 75% of cubs die within months.
Cheetahs often have run-ins with farmers when their natural prey becomes scarce and they are forced to hunt livestock. Farmers view them as pests and kill them in retaliation for the loss of their animals. Habitat loss is also a huge factor in cheetah survival - their habitat is continually fractured by roads, expanding agriculture land, and human settlement.