Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

Superficially similar to the leopard, the cheetah is the most diurnal of Africa’s cat species, and it hunts using speed as opposed to stealth. Cheetahs make use of their high speeds to catch their prey, but they are unable to sustain top speeds for much more than a few hundreds of metres.

Cheetahs are the fastest land mammals, and have been documented as reaching speeds up to 103 km per hour (29 meters per second). However, in real hunting situations, where Cheetah may be slowed down because of weaving prey and the need to circumvent obstacles, actual speeds may be much lower than this.

They take a wide variety of prey, principally small- to mid-sized ungulates, especially gazelle, kob and impala. But their prey can range from ground-dwelling birds and small mammals, such as hares, up to large ungulates such as wildebeest, kudu or eland. Cheetahs, unlike many other African predators, rarely scavenge. In areas with high densities of large carnivore competitors, cheetah can lose up to around 10% of their kills to kleptoparasitism, particularly to lions and spotted hyaenas, and tend not to remain long with their kills, abandoning the carcass once they have eaten their fill.

They also tend to be primarily active during the day, a strategy that may help to reduce competition. There is some evidence that nocturnal activity is linked to the lunar cycle, consistent with a hypothesis that the need to use visual cues to avoid competitors is a key driver of diurnal behaviour.


Male cheetahs are strongly territorial and, in some areas, they commonly defend their territory in pairs or trios. Cheetahs are the least powerful of the large predators: they are chased from a high percentage of their kills and 50% of cheetah cubs are killed by other predators before they reach three months of age.

Like leopards, cheetahs are heavily spotted and solitary in their habits, but their greyhound-like build, distinctive black tear-marks and preference for grassland and savanna habitats precludes confusion.

In Uganda, Cheetah occurs almost exclusively in the Karamoja region, in the vicinity of Kidepo National Park, where an estimated 53–310 individuals have been recorded.


Habitat & Ecology

Cheetahs have a social organization that is unique among felids , females are solitary or accompanied by dependent young, and males are either solitary or live in stable coalitions of two or three. Most coalitions consist of brothers, but unrelated males may also be members of the group.

Unlike the coalitions formed by male lions, where a single male from the coalition will guard and mate with a female throughout oestrus, female Cheetahs appear to mate with as many males as possible, and show no mate fidelity.

In areas where prey is migratory (such as the Serengeti Plains), female Cheetahs follow the herds, while male coalitions establish small territories (average 30 km2) which are centered on areas attractive to females. However, in areas where prey is non-migratory, male and females may have overlapping ranges that can be more similar in size.

It has been hypothesised that the Cheetah’s unique social system and ranging patterns originally evolved as a strategy to remain mobile in the presence of larger and stronger competitors, enabling the species to avoid direct competition in a spatio-temporal heterogeneous landscape.

In the wild Cheetah have been recorded as living a maximum of 14 years and five months for females and 10 years for males, however females have not been recorded as having cubs beyond 12 years. Cheetahs give birth to their first litter at two years after a three-month gestation. The cubs are kept in a lair for the first two months of their life, during which time their mother leaves to hunt every morning and returns at dusk.

Ref: Durant, S., Mitchell, N., Ipavec, A. & Groom, R. 2015. Acinonyx jubatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T219A50649567. 

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