Anne Hilborn

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Cheetahs are the only wild cat that purrs


Each cheetah has a unique spot pattern


Male cheetahs form life long coalitions  with their brothers, and  sometimes single males will make a coalition with an unrelated male.


Cheetahs make high pitched bird-like chirps to contact each other


Some female cheetahs will adopt abandoned cubs


Female adolescents stay with their brothers for about 6 months after the siblings leave their mother


Females can mate with multiple males, and cubs from the same litter can have different fathers.


Unlike other cats, cheetahs have non-retractable claws.  It is thought they use them for traction during high speed chases.


Some cheetahs have a mustache-like markings on their upper lips.





General Info


Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are a mid-sized carnivore weighing from 46 to 160 lbs.  They are the fastest land mammal with top speeds of 58 mph being recorded in the wild and 64 mph in captivity They have a number of  physical adaptations that allow them to be so fast.  They are deep-chested, narrow waisted, and have a small head.  Their spines are extraordinarily flexible, they have dog-like claws which they can use for traction, long rudderlike tails, and large nostrils for increased oxygen intake.  These features make them fast but also mean they are not very powerful.  They have small jaws and lack sharp claws which makes them vulnerable in confrontations with larger carnivores like lions and hyenas.  Adults can outrun other carnivores  but  unfortunately cubs are not so lucky and are often killed.


Every cheetah's coat has a unique pattern of spots that researchers use to tell one individual from another.  They are often mistaken for leopards because of rough similarity in size and spottedness.  However there are a number of differences between cheetahs and leopards.  Cheetahs have black marks extending from their inner eyes down to the outsides of their mouth.  Leopards are stockier and heavier, with much larger heads.  Leopards spend much of their time during the day lounging with incredible grace in trees.  Cheetahs tend to lounge on termite mounds.  Very occasionally they will jump up into low trees, but they look very awkward and ridiculous, and usually fall out of the tree in an embarrassing way.




Hipster cheetah




Each cheetah has a different pattern of spots, meaning we can tell them apart and keep track of who is who.  This has allowed us to learn an exciting amount about their social behavior.  Except for lions, who live in prides, most wild cats are solitary.  Cheetahs, on the other hand,  can be either social or solitary, territorial or nomadic.   Females are solitary and do not have territories, instead they roam over  home ranges of up to 800 km2.  They have one to six cubs at a time, stashing them in rocky outcroppings (kopjes), swamps, or long grass for two months.  After that the cubs follow their mother everywhere she goes.  When the cubs are about six months old, the mother starts bringing live prey back to the cubs to teach them to hunt.   This is a long process and even when they become independent from their mother at about 18 months , they usually are still not very good at hunting.  Sisters stay with their siblings for about six more months and then set out on their own.  Brothers form a coalition and live and hunt together for life.  If male cubs have no other brothers they will either stay solitary or occasionally form a coalition with an unrelated male.  Males can either be nomadic or defend territories of about 35 km2

Leopard pretending to be a cheetah

Cheetah pretending to be a leopard



Cheetahs are the fastest land mammal, reaching speeds of up to 60 mph, making them really good at chasing and catching their prey.  In Serengeti National Park where I do my research they chase Thomson’s gazelles, Grant’s gazelles, young wildebeest, steenbok, dik-dik and even hares.  Once they have started to chase something, they catch it over half of the time.  Sometimes they even chase things they have no chance of catching, or if they did, they wouldn’t know what to do with.  Things like ostrich or kori bustards, or fully grown kongoni.  They sometime chase vultures if they get too close to their kill, but not all that often.  Cheetahs tend not to be very aggressive, though they do like to go after smaller carnivores like jackals and servals if they get the chance.

No pregnancy here, just brothers after a big meal

Range and  Habitats

Cheetahs can live in a variety of habitats, including deserts, plains, savannahs, woodlands, and scrublands.  They used to range from India to Morocco to South Africa.  At the moment there are remnant populations in Iran, and Algeria, with strongholds in Tanzania, Botswana, and Namibia.  They are classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List

Mother and cubs

Two adolescents proving just how terrible they are at hunting.  They captured a young gazelle but couldn't figure out how to kill it.  Here it escapes for the third time.

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