The cheetah, also called the hunting leopard, is a big cat found in eastern and southern Africa. Four cheetahs call Felidae Centre home; Chaka, Zena, Max and Lexi. Despite being territorial cats, they are sociable and enjoy one another’s company. Zena, the baby of the farm, particularly enjoys playing with one of the dogs on the reserve and loves getting attention from visitors. Although cheetahs are the only big cat that cannot roar they purr and ‘chirp’ to communicate their moods. In fact, they are the only big cat that can purr!
Habitat: Cheetahs avoid thickets and riverine forests, opting instead for more open woodland and plains. Arid areas allow for them to run, a necessity when hunting. The presence of prey is important, as is a large area for roaming.
Habits: Cheetahs are mainly diurnal, meaning they are most active at sunrise and sunset. They prefer to rest in a place with a clear view, typically somewhere elevated. They are usually seen in pairs (males or mothers with youngsters) or alone (females). Males like to form groups called coalitions (usually brothers sticking together) to live and hunt together. Home ranges overlap and although males mark their areas with urine, not all of them demonstrate territorial behaviors. The cheetah is the fastest animal on land and relies on its speed to overtake and catch its prey.
Identification: These cats have slender, long legs, with a small head with distinct dark stripes (tear marks) from inside corner of the eyes to the mouth. Nearly 2000 small round or oval black spots over their entire body! Different from other big cats, a cheetah’s claws are only semi-retractable.
Food: Cheetahs typically eat medium sized animals, including; impala, springbok and other small antelope, calves of larger antelope, ground-living birds, such as korhaans, guinea-fowl, hares and porcupines. Coalitions of males, typically 3 or 4 brothers, can take down even larger prey, such as young zebra, wildebeest and even kudu. The diet varies depending on the area the cheetah lives in, as do their hunting habits.
Breeding: Cheetahs have a relatively short gestation period of 3 months. They typically have 3-5 cubs at a time. In the wild a mother cheetah moves her cubs almost constantly to avoid attacks. Offspring generally stay with their mother 13-20 months until they gain enough skills and independence to survive on their own.
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