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Fast Facts

The Latin name for the Asiatic cheetah Acinonyx jubatus venaticus. What does that stand for?

The name Acinonyx derives from Greek and freely translated it means ‘non-retractable claw’. Despite that the cheetah is very well able to retract is claws but the pocket like skin fold which is common with other cats is strongly degenerated. That is the reason why a part of the cheetahs claw is always outside and makes it seem as if he could not retract it.

How many cheetahs are left in the world?

Since 1975 the cheetah is marked as an endangered species on the red list of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). The current count of A.jubatus is about 12000 animals. The last Asiatic cheetahs found in Iran are marked with only about 70 individuals as threatened with extinction.

What habitat you can find cheetahs in?

In general it is believed that cheetahs appear in savannas and steppes because gazelles, the main prey of the cheetah, live in these areas. Landscapes with small elevations give the cheetahs the possibility of having a good lookout for prey and predators. Also high grass and bushes are important to hide themselves and their cubs.

In Iran it is the flat plains and the semi-deserts which fulfill these premises.  But it seems that they prefer the areas where the foothills meet the flat plains.

Also woodland savannas in Iran have shown to be a possible habitat. Running fast in these areas is not so easy but it is much easier to stalk and to hide their prey and cubs.

Why don’t cheetahs strongly defend their food?

A serious fight with another predator like the hyena is too risky because an injury can lead to death for an animal which is dependent on speed. The cheetah is compared to lions, leopards and hyenas much weaker. To avoid other predators cheetahs hunt mostly at daytime. The Asiatic cheetah is an exception here because it also hunts nocturnal animals.

Why does the cheetah not feed on carcass?

The cheetah is not known to be a scavenger. But why let such an easy meal go? Carrion attracts other predators so it is probably not a good idea to get too close to other much stronger carnivores.

How does a cheetah kill?

If the cheetah is close enough he kind of runs his prey over. A kick in the hind leg makes the gazelle lose balance and fall. As soon as the gazelle is on the ground the cheetah will kill her with a well trained throat bite. Like this the gazelle suffocates.

Is it true that the cheetah can’t retract his claws?

The pocket for the claw is degenerated so the claws are always a bit exposed. That means that the cheetah can retract the claws but not hide them completely. This differs the cheetah from all other cats.

Constant abrasion makes the claws blunt which makes the cheetah a comparatively bad climber. But for speed he gains a “Spikes-Effect”, which prevents sliding while running. He can suddenly change direction or speed up rapidly like his prey. You could say the claws are built in starting blocks.

How can the cheetah change direction so quickly?

To quickly change direction while hunting the long tail plays a role. It functions like a rudder and helps to balance.

For more foothold beside the claws the cheetah has thick flaky soles on his pads.

If the cheetah is so fast, why does he still need to sneak up to his prey?

The cheetah is a sprinter not an endurance runner. With this exertion his body temperature raises up to 40 – 41°C. To avoid overheating he can only keep the high speed over a distance of about 400 – 800 m. After that he needs approximately half an hour to recover. So his success must start with planning.

Are cheetahs solitary?

Cheetahs are not always loners. Male siblings often stay together or form a small group with other males. Sometimes they are up to 3 or 4 individuals. A coalition like this promises greater success with the hunt and maybe a bigger prey.

Do cheetahs remember each other when they meet again?

If cheetahs meet a real greeting ritual takes place if there is no threat from one side. You can see that with our cats at home sometimes. They lick each other faces, sniff everywhere and rub their heads against each other.

Do a lot of cubs die because of other predators?

The loss of prey because of other predators is not as high as believed. Only 10% get killed by other carnivores thanks to the good organisation of the cheetah to prevent that. But the survival rate of the cubs is still only about 30% because of other dangers like diseases, lack of food and loss of the mother.

Is the cheetah a successful hunter?

The success rate is around 50 – 70 %. No other predator is so prosperous. It is certainly because of the distance he can cover in such a short time but also because he aborts a hunt if he gets discovered too early. He chooses a particular prey animal he wants to catch. This distinguishes him from e.g. lions or wolves which are endurance runners and will try to separate a weaker or young animal from the herd.