International Cheetah Day

December 4th is International Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) Day. A day to honour and raise awareness for the ongoing threats that cheetahs face daily.

The word “cheetah” comes from the Hindi word “Chita”, meaning “spotted one”. 

Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa
Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa
Cheetah habitats

Cheetahs once lived throughout the Asian and African continents. However, their numbers have significantly reduced and are now confined to the dry open grasslands of Sub-Saharan Africa, mainly in natural reserves and national parks.

Cheetah Conservation Fund map of cheetah habitat
Cheetah facts

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.

Keeping a watchful eye for next meal
Keeping a watchful eye for the next meal

Cheetahs are the fastest land animal. They are well adapted for speed during hunting and can accelerate from 0 to 120 km/h in 3 seconds. Their long muscular tail, coupled with a long slender body, large muscular chest, light bones, can accelerate from 0 -120 km/hr in 3 seconds. In addition, their large nasal passages, oversized lungs and heart enable rapid oxygen exchange to enable fast physical speeds.

Lack of strength

Another critical point about cheetahs is that they lack the strength to haul their prey up into trees for safety. As a result, they cannot defend themselves or their prey from lions, leopards and hyenas. Therefore they must consume their prey quickly before being stolen from them by other predators. In addition, cheetahs tend to hunt during the day when other predators are not active. As a result, a cheetahs hunt and catch rate is only 50% successful.

Cheetah cubs, Tanzania
Cheetah cubs, Tanzania

Female cheetahs are solitary animals unless they are raising cubs. They usually birth 2-8 cubs in a litter, which remain hidden for around six weeks. After which, she will take them out. As a result, cubs are very vulnerable to predators, and many dont survive the first year of life.

Ready for take off, Tanzania
Ready for taking off, Tanzania

An estimated 90% of cheetah cubs die within the first three 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 journey and find their territory, while females often stay closer to the mother’s territory. It takes around three years until a cheetah can successfully hunt on its own.

Cheetah Lifespan

Life span in the wild is around 4-6 years, whereas, in captivity, it is 10-15 years. It is hoped that celebrating International Cheetah Day will bring about awareness for these beautiful lesser wild cats.

Stunning pose
Stunning pose

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. Consequently, cheetahs resort to going after farmers livestock and being shot by farmers trying to protect their livestock. Poaching is a significant threat, particularly for their beautiful skins. Trophy hunting, illegal wildlife trade, trapping, civil unrest, and diseases also impact cheetahs survival.

Over the past 100 years, there has been a 90% decline in the cheetah population. As a result, the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species has listed cheetahs as ‘vulnerable’. The current cheetah population has only 6,674 individuals left in the wild, decreasing numbers. It is hoped that celebrating International Day will bring awareness about cheetahs.

Serengeti cheetah, Race for Survival
Serengeti cheetah

Please enjoy this short video on cheetahs.


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