When on a Kruger Park safari, seeing a cheetah racing across the savannah is like winning the lottery. These are such special cats, and not just because they are the fastest mammals in the world.
The cheetah got its name from the Hindi word “Chita” which means “Spotted One”. It is not part of the Big Five but this cat is simply amazing.
A Body Built for Speed
This animal is built for speed and is the fastest land animal, capable of reaching speeds of up to 114km/h. This top speed can only be maintained for about 250 meters, after which the cheetah needs to catch its breath. The cheetah has a build like a greyhound but with much longer legs. It has a big heart, a big pair of lungs and large nasal passages.
This big cat weighs in at around 40-60kg and is slightly taller than leopards. The cheetah does not climb trees like the rest of the cat family as they have non-retractable claws similar to that of a dog, giving it an added advantage when chasing down its prey. This allows the cheetah to not have to get close to its prey like a lion or a leopard but can make chase from a distance.
A Natural Hunter
Cheetah hunt by day, and can start the chase from 100m from its intended prey and will within seconds be racing at full speed. Using its long heavy tail as a stabiliser, the cheetah gives chase with a single-minded aim, anticipating every move of the prey.
When the cheetah deems the moment is right, it will knock the prey off balance and go straight for the throat. They do not kill as effectively as lion or leopard, as the cheetah’s jaw and teeth are smaller so it can take up to 25 minutes for the prey to die. Once the prey is killed the cheetah needs to rest before devouring its meal. Very often a lion or hyaena will come and steal the cheetah’s kill. Cheetah will normally eat their kill at the place where they take down the animal rather than drag it to a place of safety.
If their prey is not taken by surprise, they have only a one in ten chance of catching it. However should the prey be caught off-guard, the odds are upped to one in two chances.
Despite appearances, cheetah are quite timid cats, although they can so quickly and efficiently take down prey.
In Southern Africa, there is no record of a cheetah attacking a human.
Cheetah are known to mark their territory, but rarely actively defend it. The cats can be seen in small groups but this is usually with their brothers and they do not form prides as lions do. the cheetah are an endangered species but this has nothing to do with their ability to reproduce. These animals are not born fighters and when the mother has to leave her cubs to go hunt, cheetah cubs often fall prey to lion or hyaenas. Sadly up to 90% of baby cheetah die within three months of birth.
Cheetah are also born with weak, underdeveloped immune systems so cubs rarely make it past one month of age. When the cubs are born they have a mantle of fur from the back of their necks to their rumps which aids to disguise them in the grass. Although the cubs leave their mother at about two years old, they may hang around together for several months after initially leaving. In the wild cheetah can live up to 15 years.
Cheetah are a rewarding sight, and in the Kruger, anything can happen. Book your Kruger Park safari to see all of the splendours of this awe-inspiring wildlife sanctuary.