Most of us are familiar with Africa’s larger cat species, but there are in fact a total of ten African wild cat species, and these are: the African Lion, African Leopard, Cheetah, Serval, Caracal, African Golden Cat, Jungle Cat, African Wildcat, Sand Cat, and the Black-Footed Cat. These species range from large to small (in size as well as in terms of population) and are found in various parts of Africa. Today our focus will be on the Cheetah and the unique attributes associated with it.
Most known for their incredible speed (running up to 115km’s per hour over short distances) these agile cats are easily recognized by the black ‘tear streaks’ that run down from their eyes to their mouths; their small, rounded head; slender body; long legs; and a spotted coat.
The Cheetah, currently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List with approximately 7000 left in the wild, is adaptable to a variety of environments and their habitat ranges from savannah grasslands and shrublands to rocky areas and arid deserts. Their ability to accelerate from 0 to 100km’s per hour in 3 seconds puts them at an advantage while hunting prey such as small and medium sized antelope, ground-dwelling birds, hares, young zebras, and even larger animals when working in coalitions.
One of the differences between the African Leopard and the Cheetah is that the latter will feed on its prey on the ground whereas the Leopard has the strength to hoist its prey into trees, away from other predators. Unfortunately, what this means is that the Cheetah often loses its meal to Lions, Leopards and Hyenas who chase them off and get to enjoy a takeaway meal that cost them no effort!
The Cheetah is not a very social cat, unlike lions who live in large prides. While the females are solitary (apart from when they are raising their cubs) the males (usually brothers) tend to form coalitions between two and four individuals as they grow older. Pregnancy typically takes around three months with an average of 1-5 cubs born per litter, however survival rates are low due to other predators.
Communication plays a huge role in the wild and when calling one another the cheetah will make a unique chirping sound, a bit like a bird, and like most cats they will hiss and snarl!
The Magnificent Five
In the Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya, five male cheetahs who were named the ‘Tano Bora’ coalition, meaning ‘The Magnificent Five’ in the local Ma language, became famous for being the largest, most formidable coalition in the region. Those who had the chance to view and photograph this team in the Mara, and more specifically catch them in action, were given a privilege second to none; today there are only two survivors of this coalition left.
Although it is not a member of Africa’s Big Five, it is always a treat being able to observe these animals in their natural environment and cheetah sightings are considered very special when on safari. Southern Africa is home to at least half of the entire Cheetah population and places like Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa, Tanzania's Serengeti, and the Okavango Delta in Botswana are great places to view these beautiful animals in the wild.
South Africa Online; Cheetah - Mammals - South Africa; (southafrica.co.za); Accessed on the 26th June 2023
Kruger National Park Guide; Speedy Cheetah - The Fastest Mammal - Kruger National Park Guide (kruger-national-park-guide.com); Accessed on the 25th June 2023
Africa Geographic; The Cheetah - Africa Geographic; (africageographic.com); Accessed on the 28 June 2023
Africa Geographic; The 10 cat species of Africa - Africa Geographic; (africageographic.com); Accessed on the 28th June 2023
IUCN Red List; Acinonyx jubatus (Cheetah) (iucnredlist.org); Accessed on the 28 June 2023
Africa Geographic; The Power of Unity - Cheetah coalition in Maasai Mara - Africa Geographic; (africageographic.com); Accessed 28 June 2023