“Africat Cheetah” by Falense – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Africat_Cheetah.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Africat_Cheetah.jpg
Common Name(s): Cheetah
|The most primitive of all cats, evolving some 18 million years ago, the cheetah is a tall, slim, long-legged cat, built along the lines of the greyhound. Its claws are only semi-retractable, and it has a distinctly dog-like muzzle. Its coat is yellowish-brown with dark brown spots and a long white-tipped tail.The cheetah may be found in open grassland and nearby forests in all parts of Africa, the Middle East, and south-central Asia, where it hunts by day, from the ground, and seeks antelope and other grazing animals.
The cheetah is unique in several ways, and is the only member of genus Acinonyx. It is easily tamed and trained to the hunt and is the fastest four-footed animal on Earth, often achieving speeds in excess of 80 mph for short distances.
A fully grown cheetah can reach speeds in excess of 60 mph and can easily outrun any animal over short distances. It sports only slightly retractable claws, the only of its type amongst the species of cat, and offer the cat extra grip in its high-speed pursuits. The cheetah unlike other Big Cats, does not roar, however it does purr and other vocal sounds range from high pitched yelps and barks to longer chirruping sounds.
The cheetahs hunting technique has been adapted to suit its speed and agility and unlike many other wild cats it hunts mainly by day. The cheetahs powerful jaw muscles enable the cat to grip its prey, without pause, for several minutes and it uses this to suffocate its catch by clamping the windpipe. Once the kill has been made the cheetah however will often pause to regain its strength before eating at this time the cheetah itself is vulnerable and can often lose its prey to packs of hyenas or to other scavengers of the open plains.
Once the cheetahs range ran from India, through the Middle East and extended to the very south of the African continent. Today, to the north, the Asian cheetah is almost extinct and can only be found in a few remote areas of Iran and Afghanistan. It is now thought that due to its reduced numbers the cheetah is also under threat genetically from inbreeding, reducing the animals immunity from disease and its ability to cope with changes in its environment.
Although there is little physical difference, apart from size variation, between the African and Asian cheetahs, the King Cheetah displays a noticeable deviation in its markings. Once believed to be a sub-species, the King Cheetah displays longer fur on the back of the head and neck, resembling a localized mane, as well as elongated spots which join to form long irregular markings along its back. It’s now believed that this difference in markings is a result of a recessive gene and a King Cheetah and normally marked cheetah have been reported in the same litter.