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Cheetahs

Speed, elegance and rarity are words which describe one of our most studied carnivores. Referred to as "slightly social" cats, the female cheetah is a solitary creature associating with males only to mate, while the males form coalitions of anything from 2 to 5 individuals. Cheetah litters normally consist of three to five cubs. The raising of the cubs is left entirely to the female. It is an arduous task and infant mortality can be high. Territory sizes vary from ecosystem to ecosystem and from individual to individual and appear to be determined by a number of factors including cheetah density and the availability of prey.
  
 cheetah-face-close-up
Namibia has the largest remaining population of cheetah anywhere in the world, with 25% of all cheetahs living within its borders. Of these 90% live on farmlands, where they come into conflict with farmers and their livestock on a daily basis. During the 1980’s and 90’s between 600 -1000 cheetahs were destroyed on an annual basis by farmers and hunters, today that number has been reduced.  The three pillars of conservation, namely ministry, private sector and non-government organisations have joined forces to work together, to increase awareness of the plight of the cheetah and to find solutions to the conflicting interests of farmer and predator. Research into cheetah numbers, distribution and behaviour, runs parallel with wildlife education for children and workshops for newly emerging farmers on how to coexist with their wild heritage CHEETAH - Acinonyx jubatus
 
CHEETAH - Acinonyx jubatus
 
Cheetah - Description:
With its long limbs, slim waist and deep chest the cheetah is built for speed. It has rounded ears, a short muzzle and a small head. Black “tear” marks run from the inner corner of the eyes to the outer corner of the mouth. The short coarse hair is a pale yellow, turning a buffy white under the belly. Numerous black spots cover the body and extend along the tail, which ends in black rings and a white tip. It uses its long tail for balance and its sharp dew claw (sharp claw situated on the inside of the front leg about 2 cm above the paw) to hook and trip prey. Long blunt claws remain exposed and are thought to assist in traction while running, similar to running spikes. Adults measure 87 cm (up to 95 cm) at the shoulder, with an average weight of 43 kg (males) and 38 kg (females).
           
 
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Cheetah - Habits, Behaviour and Social Organisation:
The cheetah is predominately diurnal; hunting during the day enables it to avoid competing with some of the other, stronger predators, such as leopard. Its home range extends 800 to1500 km². Although not considered territorial, cheetahs scent-mark by spraying urine and defecating on landmarks, and defend their home ranges. Males compete for the best hunting grounds and defend areas much smaller than the female’s ranges. Male and female littermates tend to stay together for 6 months after independence, with females leaving the group when reaching sexual maturity. Females are solitary or accompanied by their latest litter of cubs. Males are single or they form coalitions, normally of brothers. Coalitions of unrelated males have also been witnessed. Lacking strength and weapons to defend its kill against competitors, the cheetah will eat fast and surrender its kill easily to another predator.
      
Cheetah - Food and Hunting:
They hunt small to medium antelope (20-50 kg), warthog and scrub hares. Coalitions kill larger prey. The cheetah uses termite mounds and trees with low branches as lookouts. Once prey has been sighted, it will use a concealed approach, keeping as low as possible in a crouch with its head lowered to shoulder height, freezing whenever the prey looks up. It prefers to stalk to within 50 metres; the stalk is followed by a rapid dash and a very fast chase (up to 112 kph/70 mph and strides of 9 metres). Using its dew claws the cheetah trips the prey and ends the hunt in strangulation. If the cheetah fails to make a kill within 300 metres it must rest for half an hour before trying again, as its temperature soars during the chase and its breathing-rate goes up to 150 breaths per minute. A cheetah may eat up to 14 kg of meat at one sitting and then not kill for 2-5 days.
   
Cheetah - Reproduction and Offspring:
Gestation: 90-98 days. Litter size: 3-4 cubs. Birth weight: 150-300 grams. Cubs are born blind and can crawl but not walk at birth. Eyes open at 10 days and they are able to walk at 16 days, with their first teeth showing at 20 days. The cub’s coat is light grey with black on the belly with a long grey mantle on its head, shoulders and down its back, serving as camouflage against predatory mammals and birds. This has disappeared at the age of 4 months. At the age of 8 weeks they are eating meat and accompany their mother away from the den site. From the age of 3 months cubs practise hunting (unsuccessfully) and their mother brings small live prey to help them hone their hunting skills. The average age of independence is 18 months, when the mother normally leaves the cubs. Females are sexually mature at 24-36 months and males at 30-36 months.
 
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Cheetah - Adaptations for Speed:
Elongated flexible spine. Enlarged heart, lungs, bronchi and adrenals. Enlarged nasal passages for increased air intake. Non-retractable claws allow additional traction for sprinting. Long oval tail used as a rudder to assist in turning at high speed.
 
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Cheetah - Population and Distribution:
Worldwide: One hundred years ago cheetah numbers were estimated at 100 000, with their distribution being over most of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Iraq, the southern provinces of the former USSR and the countries of south-western Asia, extending all the way to India. The majority of today’s estimate of 9 000 to 12 000 reside in 26 African countries with Botswana, Kenya and Namibia holding the largest populations. There are an estimated 100 to 200 in Iran and, possibly, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
 
Cheetah Population in Namibia:
The latest estimate in Namibia was 3138-5775. (Namibia Large Carnivore Atlas – July 2004).
 
Cheetah - Conservation Status:
IUCN Red List: Vulnerable CITES: Appendix 1 Endangered
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