There are five subspecies of cheetahs. This cat is slim and has muscular, long legs—in relation to its body size when compared to other cats—a small, rounded head that is set on a long neck, a flexible spine, a deep chest, special pads on its feet for traction, and a long tail for balance. It is also the only cat that cannot retract its claws, an adaptation to help maintain traction like a soccer player’s cleats. It also bears distinctive black “tear tracks” running from the inside corner of each eye to the mouth that may serve as an anti-glare mechanism for daytime hunting.
The cheetah is a fast but timid predator.
They usually prey on small antelopes such as Thomson’s gazelles and impalas but also hunt small mammals and birds. It gets as close to the prey as possible; then in a burst of speed, it tries to outrun its quarry. These big cats are the fastest land mammal and can reach speeds of about 95 to 120 km/h (60-75 mph). Once the cat closes in, it knocks the prey to the ground with its paw and suffocates the animal with a bite to the neck. Once it has made a kill, it eats quickly and keeps an eye out for scavengers–lions, leopards, hyenas, vultures, and jackals will steal from this timid predator. Unfortunately, the cheetah’s speed can’t be maintained for more than a few hundred meters before the individual overheats. The majority of hunts result in failure.
Cheetahs tend to be introverted
The cheetah is a solitary animal. Males have been seen living in coalitions, where they appear extremely tolerant of close proximity to other males. The related members of the coalition will even take part in play and physical contact such as grooming, whereas the unrelated males will generally stick to themselves while remaining in the coalition. Like all females, there are some males who stick to themselves who do not belong to a coalition. They never stay in one place for long and are referred to as nomads. At times, a male will accompany a female for a short while after mating, but most often the female is alone with her cubs. Cheetah mothers spend a long time teaching their young how to hunt. Small, live antelopes are brought back to the cubs so they can learn to chase and catch them.