Able to reach speeds up to 70 miles an hour, the cheetah remains as the world’s fastest land animal. These cats are built for speed. They have springy spines that allow them to cover 30 feet in one stride. 30 feet! One stride! Not only that, but their bones are lighter to decrease body weight, and what’s really cool is their shoulder and hip bones. Cheetah’s shoulder blades are not attached to the rest of their skeleton and their hip bones have the ability to pivot. This allows them to swing their legs much faster than other felines in order to increase how often they able to push off the ground while running. Another cool thing about cheetahs is how their front legs are built different than their hind legs. Cheetahs have naturally longer limbs than other cats and their front legs are built in a way that cheetahs to have greater movement of their front paws. Cheetahs aren’t as strong as lions or leopards, so they use their dew claws to be able to grab and hold onto prey during the chase. If they can knock prey off balance and onto the ground, the hunt is half won.
Another thing that helps with a cheetah’s speed are their semi-retractable claws. This allows them to grip the ground as they run and help propel themselves forward. They even have grooves on their pads to help with traction. If they’re in the middle of a chase and their prey makes a sudden turn, a cheetah’s heavy tail acts like a rudder to allow the cheetah to remain behind its prey the whole time. With all these speed, cheetahs need enlarged heart and chest cavities to help with oxygen and blood flow. As built as they are for speed, cheetahs can’t maintain it for very long. It’s estimated that they can only go about 1,500 ft before having to stop. If they manage to catch their prey, they can’t eat it right away. Cheetahs have to wait about 30 minutes for their bodies to cool down from all that running to be able to eat their prey with no problems. 30 minutes is a long time on the savannah and fresh kill attracts hyenas and lions. Some cheetahs are only able to get a few bites in before other predators steal their meals.
To avoid competing with hyenas and lions who hunt at night, a cheetah will hunt at dawn or dusk. This makes them crepuscular hunters. However, there have been studies that show cheetahs will hunt nocturnally if on reserves without lions. Cheetahs tend to go after gazelle, springbok, impalas, duiker, or other small to medium antelope.
Since cheetahs can only maintain their top speeds for a short time, they have to stalk pretty close to their prey in order to have a chance at catching it. A cheetah will get as close as it can before dashing out and taking their prey by surprise.
Due to habitat loss, cheetahs are facing extinction. However, there are many ways that you can help. You can visit your local zoo. A lot of zoos donate part of their proceeds to conversation. To help cheetahs specifically, you can donate to the Cheetah Conservation Fund. It’s an organization in Namibia dedicated to the cheetah species. They promote education to local farmers and are even supplied the 8 cheetahs that got reintroduced to India. You can even help cheetahs by spreading awareness. Sharing this article and others to promote education can help spur others into action.
Cheetahs are an amazing species. The fastest land animal. They need our help.