International Cheetah Day
December 4th is International Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) Day. A day to honour and raise awareness for the ongoing threats that cheetahs are facing on a daily basis.
The word “cheetah” comes from the Hindi word “chita” meaning “spotted one”.
- Cheetahs once lived throughout the Asian and African continents. Their numbers have significantly reduced and are now confined to the dry open grasslands of Sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in natural reserves and national parks.
- The cheetah has a small head with high set eyes, short rounded ears and “tear-shaped streaks” that run from their inner eyes down their face to the corner of their mouth, which helps to reflect the sun when hunting during the day. Adults weigh around 21 – 70kg. Cheetahs are known as lesser cats as they cannot roar.
- Being the fastest land animal, they are well adapted for speed during hunting and can accelerate from 0 to 120 km/h in 3 seconds. This is due to their tall, long slender body, large muscular chest, light bones, long thin legs and a long muscular tail used for balance and steering when running. They have large nasal passages, oversized lungs and heart which enables rapid oxygen exchange to enable rapid physical speeds.
- Cheetahs do not have the strength to haul their prey up in trees for safety, nor can they defend themselves or their prey from lions, leopards and hyenas, therefore they must consume their prey very quickly before, it is taken from them by other predators. They also tend to hunt during the day when the other predators are not actively hunting. Cheetahs hunt rate is only 50% successful.
- Female cheetahs are solitary animals, unless they are raising cubs. They usually birth 2-8 cubs in a litter, which remain hidden for around 6 weeks before she will take them out. Cubs are very vulnerable to predators and many do not survive the first year of life.
- It is estimated that 90% of cheetah cubs die within the first 3 months of life. Of those, 50% are due to predators (lions, leopards, hyenas). The other 50% die due to the lack of genetic diversity, e.g., poor immune systems as they succumb easy to diseases, usually in their first month of life. Cubs are solely cared for by the mother and will leave their mothers around 18mth to 2years and forge their own lives. Males will head off on their own journey and find their own territory, while females often stay closer to the mother’s territory. It takes around 3 years until a cheetah will be able to successfully hunt on their own.
- Life span in the wild is around 4-6 years, whereas in captivity it is 10-15 years
Humans are the most feared predator. Humans are constantly expanding their environment for farming and encroaching on cheetahs natural habitats. Shrinking habitats is affecting the cheetahs food source. This is causing cheetahs to resort to going after farmers livestock, and are being shot by farmers who are trying to protect their livestock. Poaching is major threat, particularly for their beautiful skins. Trophy hunting, illegal wildlife trade, trapping, civil unrest and diseases are also impacting cheetahs survival.
Over the past 100 years it is estimated that there has been a 90% decline in the cheetah population. IUCN Red List of Endangered Species have listed cheetahs as ‘vulnerable’. It is estimated that there are only 6,674 individuals left in the wild and numbers are decreasing.
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