Animal Info - Cheetah

(Other Names: 猎豹, チーター, Abo Shamani, Adele Amayas, Ala Bars, Asiaskii Gepard, Bogolo Bogolo, Chita, Daharab, Dingdingwe, Duma, Fahd, Fahd al Sayad, Fahad, Gepard, Guépard, Guepardo, Gurk, Haramacad, Horkob, Hunting Leopard, Ihlosi, Jagluiperd, Kisakasaka, Koplon, Laggar, Lengau, Letlotse, Marukopta, Msongo, Myallen, Ngulule, Pulam, Pyatnistai Bars, Pyestrai, Rabbi, Siho, Tazy Palng, Tazy Prang, Yeoz, Yuz, Yuz Peleng, !A'o, /Uayb)

Acinonyx jubatus

Status: Vulnerable


1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Taxonomy, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Size and Weight, Habitat, Age to Maturity, Gestation Period, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Early Development, Dispersal, Maximum Reproductive Age, Maximum Age, Diet, Behavior, Social Organization, Age and Gender Distribution, Mortality and Survival, Density and Range, Genetics, Population Characteristics)
5. References


Pictures: Mother and 4 Cubs (32 Kb JPEG) and Coalition of Three Males (29 Kb JPEG) (IUCN Cat Spec. Group)

The cheetah is built for speed, with a deep chest, wasp waist, and proportionately longer limbs than the other big cats. It usually weighs 40 - 60 kg (88 - 132 lb). The cheetah lives where there is a large population of small or medium-small ungulates and the vegetation is not too dense or the ground too broken. Patchy cover is preferred, but it can also survive on dry, open plains. Gazelles are generally the main prey, with the species varying by region.

The cheetah once ranged throughout Africa and the Middle East, across to Tajikistan in the north and India in the southeast. Currently, throughout its range outside of Africa, it has been exterminated or is on the verge of extinction. In sub-Saharan Africa, although it survives throughout much of its former range, the cheetah is found in much reduced numbers, and it continues to decline. The most significant populations now survive in Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa  and in Namibia and Botswana in southern Africa.

In the past, the removal of live cheetahs from the wild into captivity, sport hunting, and the fur market all contributed to a decline in the species. Habitats have been reduced by agriculture, degradation of rangelands and competition from domestic stock, following increasing occupation of the habitat by human communities. Currently, in sub-Saharan Africa, the cheetah is threatened by persecution, due to its livestock predation, and by depletion of its ungulate prey base.


*** Throughout northern Africa and southwest Asia, and in Europe as well, captive cheetahs were kept by the nobility and trained to hunt, a practice dating back about 5000 years to the Sumerians (Nowell & Jackson 1996). In parts of the Middle East, cheetahs were the favorite hunting companions of the rich. They were used in Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC, in the Third Egyptian Dynasty, and by the Minoans. The Crusaders saw gazelles hunted with cheetahs. (Cat Survival Trust 1998) In India, the Mogul Emperor, Akbar, was said to have kept a hunting "stable" of 1000 cheetahs (Stuart & Stuart 1996).

*** The cheetah is readily distinguished from its spotted relatives by its "tear lines" - heavy black lines extending from the inner corner of each eye to the outer corner of the mouth.

*** Etymology: the name "cheetah" comes from the Hindi word "chita," meaning "spotted one."

*** The cheetah does not attack man (Schuhmacher 1967).

*** The Cheetah Conservation Fund initiated a Livestock Guarding Dog program, where Anatolian shepherd dogs were bred and then placed with local farmers (in Namibia) as livestock guardians. They have been successful in reducing losses from predators. (Marker & Dickman 2003)

Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

Countries Where the Cheetah Is Currently Found:

2004: Occurs in Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. May be extinct in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, and Senegal(de Smet 2003, IUCN 2004) 


Recent genetic analyses have lead to the proposal that all modern cats can be placed into eight lineages which originated between 6.2 - 10.8 million years ago. The cheetah is placed in the "puma lineage," which diverged from its ancestors as a separate lineage 7.2 million years ago. The puma lineage also includes the puma and the jaguarundi. (Johnson et al. 2006)

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

History of Distribution:

The cheetah once ranged throughout Africa and the Middle East across to Tajikistan in the north and India in the southeast. Although it was numerous in the 18th century in India, the cheetah was becoming rarer in the 19th century, and the last credible records of cheetah sightings in India were in the 1960's (Chavda 1994). As of the 1970's, it still occurred in arid areas of Turkmenistan, the northwest border of Afghanistan, and the eastern half of Iran (IUCN 1976). Currently, throughout its range outside Africa, it has been exterminated or is on the verge of extinction (Kingdon 1997).

The cheetah once occurred in habitats throughout Africa, with the exception of tropical lowland forest. It penetrated deep into the Sahara, where remnant populations still survive in southern Algeria and northern Niger. Its sub-Saharan range has now become seriously fragmented, particularly in West Africa, where overall densities are very low. The two principal population blocks are located in eastern and southern Africa. Of interest is that by far the greatest numbers occur outside the large conservation areas. This is probably because other large predators, particularly lions, reach relatively high densities within parks and reserves and the cheetah cannot compete with these more powerful animals. Although it survives throughout much of its former range, it is found in much reduced numbers, and it is continuing to decline. The most significant populations now survive in Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa and in Namibia and Botswana in southern Africa.

Distribution Maps:

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

In the past, the removal of live cheetahs from the wild into captivity, sport hunting, and the fur market all contributed to a decline in the species. Habitats have been reduced by agriculture, degradation of rangelands and competition from domestic stock, following increasing occupation of the habitat by human communities.

Currently, the cheetah is threatened by loss of its prey base through human hunting activities. It is persecuted because it is considered to be a threat to livestock. Livestock overgrazing has a negative effect on its habitat. (IUCN 2004) 

Data on Biology and Ecology

Size and Weight:

The head and body length of a cheetah is 1.1 - 1.5 m (3.5 - 5').  It weighs 30 - 72 kg (avg 40 - 60 kg) (66 - 160 lb (avg 88 - 132 lb)); males are heavier than females (Stuart & Stuart 1996).


Cheetahs are distributed primarily throughout the drier parts of sub-Saharan Africa. They are not generally associated with forest habitats: they occur only thinly in the more humid zones of miombo woodland that cover much of central southern Africa, and are absent from the Sudano-Guinean forest savanna belt of West Africa. However, although cheetahs are most frequently observed on open grassy plains, they also make extensive use of bush, scrub, and open woodlands. A mosaic of woodland and grassland is probably preferred. They range up to 1500 m (4900') in the mountains of Ethiopia. (Nowell & Jackson 1996)

The cheetah was once widely distributed across the Asiatic and North African portions of its range, absent only from extensive sand plains and massifs, and from areas of dense trees and shrubby vegetation. Currently, it is mostly found in mountain ranges in the southern Sahara, although it can range far out onto sandy plains where there is sufficient prey. Cheetahs have been observed at elevations up to 2000 m (6600') in these rocky mountains. In Iran, cheetahs are found mainly in the central shrub steppe, a broad zone of bush and grassland where most of Iran’s cities are located. (Nowell & Jackson 1996)

Any large population of small or medium-small ungulates can support the cheetah if the vegetation is not too dense or the ground too broken. Patchy cover is preferred, but it can also survive on dry, open plains. (Kingdon 1997)

The cheetah is one of the species that live in the Eastern Afromontane, Horn of Africa, Irano-Anatolian, and Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Biodiversity Hotspots (Cons. Intl. 2005) as well as the East African Acacia Savannas Global 200 Ecoregion (Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999).

Age to Maturity:

Females 24 - 36 months; males 30 - 36 months (Nowell & Jackson 1996).

Gestation Period:

90 - 98 days.

Birth Season:

Year-round, although birth peaks have been reported during the rainy season in the Serengeti (Nowell & Jackson 1996).

Birth Rate:

Litter size:

Interbirth interval: 15 - 19 months (Nowell & Jackson 1996).

Females readily go into estrus and conceive after losing a litter. On average, females mated within 3 weeks of losing the previous litter (Laurenson et al. 1992).

Probability of a female giving birth to litter sizes of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 cubs: 1 cub: 0.0375; 2 cubs: 0.0375; 3 cubs: 0.4000; 4 cubs: 0.3200; 5 cubs: 0.200; 6 cubs: 0.0050 (Laurenson 1992, cited in Kelly & Durant 2000).

"If a mother loses her cubs, she can come into estrus and conceive again quickly [average - 3 weeks as stated above].  Therefore it is assumed that a cheetah mother could give birth to a maximum of three litters a year. Litter size averages 3.5 cubs and ranges from 1 - 6 cubs.  Therefore a cheetah could produce a maximum of 18 cubs in a year.  We calculated the chance of annual litter sizes from 0 to 18 cubs:

Probability of a female giving birth to 0, 1, 2, ... 18 cubs/yr: 0 cubs/yr: probability = 0.1260; 1 cub/yr: 0.0141; 2 cubs/yr: 0.0146; 3 cubs/yr: 0.1515; 4 cubs/yr: 0.1321; 5 cubs/yr: 0.0956; 6 cubs/yr: 0.0769; 7 cubs/yr: 0.1044; 8 cubs/yr: 0.1045; 9 cubs/yr: 0.0646; 10 cubs/yr: 0.0407; 11 cubs/yr: 0.0303; 12 cubs/yr: 0.0240; 13 cubs/yr: 0.0141; 14 cubs/yr: 0.0052; 15 cubs/yr: 0.0012; 16 cubs/yr: 0.0001; 17 cubs/yr: 0.0000; 18 cubs/yr: 0.0000."

(Kelly & Durant 2000)

Estimated mean number of cubs/yr: 5.4 (Kelly & Durant 2000).

Proportion of females breeding each year: 0.8740 (Kelly & Durant 2000).

Early Development:

Cheetah cubs are born in long grass, in thickets or in a temporary ‘borrowed’ burrow (Kingdon 1997). It takes about three years for Serengeti cheetahs to become good hunters. Often they fail to crouch down and so are seen by their prey. They also start their chases too early and abandon the chases prematurely. (Cat Survival Trust 1998)


The length of time a cub remains dependent on its mother varies a great deal. Some stay with her for up to 20 months; others are on their own at just over 1 year of age, with the average age of independence being about 18 months. After offspring leave their mother, they remain together as a sibling group for an average of about 6 months. Females separate from their siblings at an age of about 2 years (usually 23 - 27 months old).  Male siblings usually remain together in bachelor groups called "coalitions."  (Laurenson et al. 1992, Nowell & Jackson 1996, Kingdon 1997).

Males disperse much farther than females, often more than 20 km (12 mi) (Cat Survival Trust 1998).

Maximum Reproductive Age:

Females: 12 years (Kelly & Durant 2000).

Males: Up to 14 years (captivity) (Nowell & Jackson 1996).

Maximum Age:

12 - 14 years (captivity: up to 21 years). However,  the mean life expectancy of a female reaching 3 years of age in the Serengeti has been estimated at only an additional 3.9 years. (Nowell & Jackson 1996)


Gazelles are generally the main prey species. In East Africa, the cheetah’s main prey is the Thomson’s gazelle on the plains (Serengeti) and impala in the woodlands. In the arid bushland of northern Kenya, lesser kudu, gerenuk, and dikdik have been identified as major prey. In southern Africa, major prey consists of springbok (northeastern Botswana, Namibia, South Africa); greater kudu calves and warthog (Namibia); impala, and puku. Cheetah are also known to take smaller prey, particularly hares, and male coalitions often take much larger prey, such as wildebeest. In India, cheetahs took primarily blackbuck antelopes and chinkara gazelles, but were also known to attack nilgai antelope and domestic goats and sheep. In Turkmenistan, cheetahs primarily took goitered gazelles, and the cheetah's disappearance from this area is strongly associated with the decline of gazelles in the mid-1990's. In Iran, cheetahs outside protected areas with gazelle populations are reported to prey mainly on hares, an abundant food source because they are not usually taken by Muslim hunters. (Nowell & Jackson 1996) In Niger, suitable prey include Dorcas gazelle, young dama gazelle, Barbary sheep and Cape hares (Claro & Sissler 2003).

Cheetahs are well-adapted to living in arid environments. They are not obligate drinkers and, in the Kalahari desert, have been estimated to travel an average of 82 km (51 mi) between drinks of water. They were observed to satisfy their moisture requirements by drinking the blood or urine of their prey, or by eating tsama melons. (Nowell & Jackson 1996)


Certain aspects of cheetah behavior can be explained as adaptations to compete with other sympatric large predators, particularly lions and hyenas. Cheetahs are predominantly diurnal, probably because competing predators are nocturnal. Cheetahs often lose their kills to lions and hyenas. There is preliminary evidence that cheetahs will remain near large kills, rather than abandon them after eating their fill, on Namibia ranchlands where lions and hyenas have been eliminated. (Nowell & Jackson 1996)

In the Hoggar Mountains in Algeria, cheetahs are reported to move constantly from one valley to another, but they exhibit territorial behavior by marking trees ( mostly Tamarix) with their feces and by scratching them (Acacia). They rest under these trees or lie on the lower horizontal branches. They hunt at night. (de Smet 2003)

Approximately half of the hunting attempts are successful (Cat Survival Trust 1998). The success rate for chases after gazelle of all ages  was 70% (Schaller 1972).

The cheetah is the fastest land mammal. A captive cheetah was accurately clocked at 110 kph (68 mph) over a short distance. In the wild, out of 78 chases measured and timed, the top speed was 87 kph (54 mph). After reaching its top speed, a cheetah is quickly exhausted. (Nowell & Jackson 1996)

Social Organization:

A greater degree of sociality has been observed among cheetahs than is the case for most wild cats, with the exception of the lion. Male and female litter-mattes tend to stay together for about six months after independence from their mother. After reaching maturity, females split off, but male litter-mates may remain together in "coalitions", sometimes defending territories. These coalitions, particularly trios, may include unrelated males, with the frequency of this type of grouping estimated at 15% in the Serengeti. Males in coalitions are more likely than solitary males to gain and maintain territories; non-territorial males live a nomadic existence and wander widely. Territorial males were found to be in better physiological condition and appear to have better access to females during periods of gazelle concentration. Large groups of up to 14-19 cheetahs (including cubs) have been reported occasionally from parts of eastern and southern Africa where other large predators have been eradicated. Solitary male and female adults are semi-nomadic, having large, overlapping home ranges. (Nowell & Jackson 1996)

Age and Gender Distribution:

Sex ratio: cubs: 1 male:0.95 female (n = 117); adults and independent sub-adults: 1 male:1.9 females (n = 169) (Nowell & Jackson 1996).

The sex ratio of cubs in the lair did not differ statistically from unity (51 males, 39 females) (Laurenson et al. 1992).

The population as a whole consisted of 21% males, 47% females, and 32% young.  44% of the young were large, 12 - 16 months old. (Schaller 1972)

Mortality and Survival:

Annual probability of survival: Juvenile (0 - 1 yr old): 0.10 (variance = 0.0020) ("optimistic"); Adolescent (1 - 2 yr old): 0.65 (var = 0.084); Adult: 0.85 (var = 0.0041) (Kelly & Durant 2000).

11% of cubs survived to 4 months; 4 - 5.6% of cubs survived to independence at 14 months old (Laurenson 1994, cited in Kelly & Durant 2000).

Mortality from birth to independence is between 90 and 98% (Laurenson et al. 1992).

Juvenile mortality: 73% of cub deaths were due to predation (mainly lion) (Nowell & Jackson 1996).

Density and Range:


Home Range:

Cheetahs have large home ranges, on the order of 800 - 1,500 sq km (310 - 580 sq mi) (IUCN 2004). This is partly because a cheetah's ungulate prey may undertake annual migrations over long distances, and, if so, the cheetah's (annual) home range must encompass the full range of its prey.



Genetic research has demonstrated that both captive and free-ranging cheetahs exhibit a very high level of homogeneity in coding DNA, on a par with inbred strains of lab mice. The cheetah appears to have suffered a series of severe population bottlenecks in its history, with the first and most significant occurring possibly during the late Pleistocene extinctions, around 10,000 years ago. It has been argued that lack of genetic diversity may render the cheetah an exceptionally vulnerable species. However, there is no evidence that reproduction is compromised in the wild. (Nowell & Jackson 1996)

% polymorphism loci: 0.0; avg heterozygosity: 0.0 (O'Brien et al. 1985).

Population Characteristics:

The Serengeti population does not appear to show signs of density dependence (Kelly & Durant 2000).


Arkive, Cat News 1996, Cat News 1997c, Cat Survival Trust 1998, Chavda 1994, Claro & Sissler 2003, Cons. Intl. 2005, de Smet 2003, Guggisberg 1975, IUCN 1976, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, IUCN Cat Spec. Group, Jackson 1998a, Johnson et al. 2006, Kelly 2001, Kelly & Durant 2000, Kingdon 1997, Kitchener 1991, Kruuk & Turner 1967, Laurenson et al. 1992, Magill 2003, Marker 2001, Nowak 1999, Nowell & Jackson 1995, Nowell & Jackson 1996, O'Brien et al. 1985, Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999, Oryx 1988j, Patuxent Wildl. Res. Ctr., Schaller 1972, Schaller 2001, Schaller 2002, Schuhmacher 1967, Seidensticker & Lumpkin 1991, Stuart & Stuart 1996

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