The Cheetah is a large cat of the subfamily Felinae that occurs in North, Southern and East Africa, and a few localities in Iran. It inhabits a variety of mostly arid habitats like dry forests, scrub forests, and savannahs. The species is IUCN Red Listed as Vulnerable, as it suffered a substantial decline in its historic range in the 20th century due to habitat loss, poaching for the illegal pet trade, and conflict with humans.By 2016, the global cheetah population has been estimated at approximately 7,100 individuals in the wild. Several African countries have taken steps to improve cheetah conservation measures.The cheetah was formally described by Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber in 1775 and is the only extant member of the genus Acinonyx. Its yellowish tan or rufous to greyish white coat is uniformly covered with nearly 2,000 solid black spots.Its body is slender with a small rounded head, black tear-like streaks on the face, deep chest, long thin legs and long spotted tail. It reaches 70–90 cm (28–35 in) at the shoulder, and weighs 21–72 kg (46–159 lb).
The cheetah breeds throughout the year, and is an induced ovulator. Gestation lasts nearly three months, resulting in a litter of typically three to five, in rare cases up to eight cubs. They are weaned at the age of about six months.
After siblings become independent from their mother, they usually stay together for some time.
It is active mainly during the day, with hunting its major activity. It is a carnivore and preys mainly upon antelopes and gazelles. It stalks its prey to within 100–300 m (330–980 ft), charge towards it and kill it by tripping it during the chase and biting its throat to suffocate it to death. Female cheetahs are solitary or live with their offspring in home ranges. Adult males are sociable despite their territoriality, forming groups called coalitions.African cheetahs may achieve successful hunts only running up to a speed of 64 km/h (40 mph) while hunting due to their exceptional ability to accelerate; but are capable of accelerating up to 112 km/h (70 mph) on short distances of 100 m (330 ft).
It is therefore the fastest land animal. Because of its prowess at hunting, the cheetah has been tamed already in the 16th century BC in Egypt and used to kill game at hunts. It has been widely depicted in art, literature, advertising and animation.The king cheetah is a variety of cheetah with a rare mutation for cream-coloured fur marked with large, blotchy spots and three dark, wide stripes extending from their neck to the tail.In 1926 Major A. Cooper wrote about an animal he had shot near modern-day Harare. Describing the animal, he noted its remarkable similarity to the cheetah, but the body of this individual was covered with fur as thick as that of a snow leopard and the spots merged to form stripes.
He suggested that it could be a cross between a leopard and a cheetah. After further similar animals were discovered, it was established that they had non-retractable claws – a characteristic feature of the cheetah.The cheetah has a yellowish tan or rufous to greyish white skin, that is covered with nearly 2,000 solid black spots.The underbelly is completely white. It has a slender body, deep chest, a small rounded head, black tear-like streaks on the face, long thin legs and a long spotted tail. The head-and-body length ranges from 112–150 cm (44–59 in). Adult cheetahs average 70–90 cm (28–35 in) at the shoulder, and weigh 21–72 kg (46–159 lb). Its lightly built, slender form is in sharp contrast with the robust build of the big cats.It is taller than the leopard, which stands nearly 55–70 cm (22–28 in) at the shoulder. The weight range of the cheetah overlaps with that of the leopard, which weighs 28–65 kg (62–143 lb). On the other hand, the cheetah is significantly shorter than the lion, whose average height is nearly 120 cm (47 in).Moreover, it is much lighter than the lion, among which females weigh 126 kg (278 lb) and the much heavier males weigh 186 kg (410 lb). Based on measurements, the smallest cheetahs have been reported from the Sahara, northeastern Africa and Iran. A sexually dimorphic species, males are generally larger than females.The head is small and rounded. Saharan cheetah have narrow canine faces. Small, short, and rounded, the ears are marked by black patches on the back; the edges and base of the ears are tawny. The high-set eyes have round pupils.The whiskers, shorter and fewer in number than those of other felids, are fine and inconspicuous. The pronounced tear streaks are unique to the cheetah. These streaks originate from the corner of the eyes and run down the nose to the mouth.Their role is obscure – they may be serving as a shield for the eyes against the sun’s glare, a helpful feature as the cheetah hunts mainly during the day; another purpose could be to define facial expressions. The spots measures 3.2–5.1 cm (1.3–2.0 in). Every cheetah has a unique pattern of spots on its coat; hence, this serves as a distinct identity for each individual.Cheetah fur is short and often coarse. Fluffy fur covers the chest and the ventral side. Several colour morphs of the cheetah have been identified, including melanistic and albino forms. Black cheetah have been observed in Kenya and Zambia.In 1877–1878, English zoologist Philip Sclater described two partially albino specimens from South Africa. A ticked (tabby) cheetah was photographed in Kenya in 2012.Juveniles are typically dark with long, loose, blue to grey hair. A short mane, about 8 centimetres (3.1 in) long, on the neck and the shoulders, is all that remains of the cape in adults. The exceptionally long and muscular tail measures 60–80 centimetres (24–31 in), and ends in a bushy white tuft. While the first two-thirds of the tail are covered in spots, the final part is marked with four to six dark rings or stripes.The arrangement of the terminal stripes of the tail differs among individuals, but the stripe patterns of siblings are very similar. In fact, the tail of an individual will typically resemble its siblings’ to a greater extent than it resembles its mother’s or any other individual’s.The cheetah is sometimes confused with the leopard, and can be distinguished by its small round spots in contrast to the leopard’s rosettes in addition, the leopard lacks the tear streaks of the cheetah.
The cougar possesses neither the tear streaks nor the spotted coat pattern of the cheetah.
The serval has a form very similar to that of the cheetah but is significantly smaller. Moreover, it has a shorter tail and spots that fuse to form stripes on the back.