Previous posts about the wildlife of South Africa focused on “The Big Five” animals and “Everyday Faces” . This post will focus on an exquisitely beautiful cat, the cheetah. Cheetahs are best described as graceful and elegant.
All of these cheetah images were captured while volunteering for the African Impact organization at the Thanda Game Reserve in South Africa from mid-September through October 2012. During this period the Thanda Reserve had two adult males and one female. A second female was introduced on October 28th.
Distinguishing features of the cheetah are the tan and spotted fur, a small head, sleek frame with deep chest and narrow waist, and a long tail.
The small head has high-set eyes, large nostrils and black tear marks that extend from the corners of its eyes to its mouth. These tear marks aid in keeping sunlight out of their eyes that is advantageous when hunting and seeing long distances.
The cheetah is the world’s fastest land mammal with speeds as fast as 60 to 70 miles per hour (112 km/hr). They have the ability to accelerate for short distances obtaining speeds of 62 mph in 3 seconds. It is suited for short bursts, but not long distance running. It is amazing to think that these cheetahs strolling along here could in the next three seconds be moving at such high speeds.
These two cheetahs are brothers and were constant companions at the reserve. Male cheetahs are often social and will often be seen living together.
The males are quite territorial. They will attempt to kill any intruders.
Females, on the other hand, are solitary and tend to avoid each other. Females do not establish territories and tend to have large home ranges. This female cheetah was introduced to the Thanda Reserve in July 2012. It was fitted with a collar to keep track of its whereabouts.
Cheetahs are often found in open savannah and rely on tall grasses for camouflage when hunting. The tan and spotted fur provides good camouflage while hunting. The cheetah gets as close to the prey as possible and then with a burst of speed springs after the prey.
Cheetahs are carnivores that will hunt impalas, gazelles, hares, and the calves of wildebeests or zebras. When cheetahs hunt in groups, they can also bring down adult wildebeests and zebras. While other cats like the lion and leopard tend to hunt at night, the cheetah will hunt in early morning or later in the evening when it is not so hot.
Cheetahs are included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list as vulnerable species. It is estimated that only between 9,000 and 12,000 cheetahs remain wild in twenty-five African countries.
Update: A second female cheetah was acquired by the Thanda Game Reserve at the end of October 2012 in the hopes that mating would succeed with the two brothers. In December 2012, the two brothers were seen courting the new female. The cheetah has a gestation period of about 90 days. Four cubs were born in March 2013.
Cheetahs are difficult to successfully breed at zoos or in captivity. The cheetah thrives best in vast expanses of land where prey is readily available. The immense importance of conserving habitat like the Thanda Game Reserve is critical for protecting wildlife.