8 fascinating facts about cheetahs
What do you know about cheetahs? These beautiful big cats, found in the African savannah, have become famous for their amazing speed and incredible hunting ability. But there’s more to cheetahs than just their sprinting powers, and they’re very different from their lion, tiger or leopard cousins. Read on to learn about one of the most unusual members of the cat family!
1) They’re speed demons
Cheetahs are the fastest animal in the world. How fast? Well, they can go from 0 to 112 km/h in just three seconds! Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, can only get up to 44 km/h, so a cheetah would win the Olympic gold without even breaking a sweat. They’re also the only big cat that can change direction mid-sprint, helping them to catch antelope and other animals to snack on. But they can’t keep it up for long, and they get tired very easily. Luckily for them, they don’t usually need more than a minute to catch their prey.
2) Their mascara is smeared!
Not sure if you’re looking at a cheetah or a leopard? The answer is staring you right in the face! Cheetahs have darker spots that are completely black (not “rosettes” like leopards), and they have long, black lines that run down their face from their eyes to their mouth. It makes them look a bit like they’re crying! Some scientists think that these lines help to protect their eyes from bright sunlight, which is important when they’re hunting.
3) They’re chatterboxes
If you see a cheetah, don’t expect it to roar like other big cats. Unlike lions and tigers, cheetahs never roar – but they’re still noisy animals, and they like to communicate with each other. They often make noises like cats and dogs, purring and barking, and they even use a chirping sound like a bird sometimes!
4) They can do impersonations
In fact, that chirping sound isn’t used just to communicate with other cheetahs. Sometimes, these cunning animals mimic birds to encourage them to get closer. The poor bird won’t know what’s hit him, while the cheetah enjoys an easy lunch.
5) They (probably) won’t eat you
Good news: there has never been a record of a cheetah attacking a human! They’re some of the shyest big cats out there, and they tend to stay away from people. Very young cheetahs may get confused about suitable prey – sometimes they try to attack big animals like giraffes – but most of the time, they know better than to go after creatures like humans. If a cheetah sees you, he’ll probably just run away!
6) They’re easy to work with
Some cheetahs actually like being near people. In fact, they’ve been domesticated for more than 5,000 years. Historically, cheetahs were used for hunting in Asia and North Africa, and they’re by far the easiest big cat to tame. They hunt using their sense of vision rather than smell, so hunters would cover the cheetahs’ heads with hoods until the prey appeared, then set them loose to chase it down. Nowadays – fortunately for the cheetahs – people don’t generally use them for hunting anymore, and they can enjoy living in the wild.
7) They love their families
Female cheetahs like to live alone, unless they’ve got cubs to care for. They look after their cubs for up to 2 years, teaching them to hunt. After the cubs have left their mother, the girls go their own way, but the boys often still stay together. Groups of male cheetahs are called “coalitions”, and usually consist of 2 or 3 members who work together to defend their territory.
8) They’re runners, not fighters
Sadly, cheetahs may be fast, but they’re not very tough. They would win the Olympic gold for sprinting, but not for wrestling, and they’re often attacked and killed by bigger, more dangerous animals. Cheetah cubs are very vulnerable in the wild, with predators like lions, hyenas and jackals killing lots of them. In fact, it’s been estimated that about 90% of cheetahs born die before they’re 3 months old.