This week we celebrate International Cheetah Day! The 4th of December marks the day to celebrate cheetahs for being the incredible creatures they are! These speedy runners are wonderfully unique, and have a wealth of adaptations to help them specialize in what they are known for – speed!
The date is close to our hearts here at Wildlife Safari, as it is the birth date of Khayam, our first ambassador cheetah.
Cheetahs (scientific name Acinonyx jubatus) are listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The majority of the global population lives in South and East Africa, but a small population (50-70) of Asiatic cheetahs still exists in Iran.
The fastest land animal, they can run up to 70 miles per hour.
They are diurnal, and their prey includes animals such as impalas, gazelle, and hares, which they hunt at dusk or dawn and catch them by tripping them with a razor sharp dew claw.
On average females weigh between 80lbs – 100lbs while males are slightly larger at around 100lbs – 120lbs (weights vary from captivity to wild populations). In the wild these cats will rarely live beyond 10 years of age, but in captivity they can live up to 15-18 years. Unfortunately, due to drastic bottlenecking seen in the wild populations, all cheetahs are thought to share 95%-98% of their genetics, species-wide, which could spell disaster for the future of this magnificent hunter.
Cheetahs have slender bodies designed to run, with enlarged nasal cavities to take in more air when they are reaching top speeds. They also have ‘semi-retractable’ claws, which means they don’t pull back when not in use like most cats’ claws do, rather they stay out all the time, functioning as traction (just like soccer cleats) so they won’t slip when running. As you can imagine, slipping when you’re moving at 70 mile per hour is not going to feel very good and is best avoided.
The IUCN estimated population sits at 7,000-10,000 and these numbers are declining. Current threats come from farmers trapping, shooting and poisoning cheetahs due to mistaken predator identification, land encroachment, interspecies competition, starvation, and fear-based killings. Despite their striking and unique appearance, cheetahs don’t face significant danger from poaching. They do not typically groom themselves, so their coats are quite coarse.
Conservation efforts include the Livestock Guard Dog Program (LSGD), which gives farmers in areas with resident cheetahs a dog to keep the predators away, which keeps the cheetahs safe and the farmers happy! More conservation efforts include community education and outreach in Africa, which are being led by groups like Cheetah Botswana and the Cheetah Conservation Fund; and domestic zoo-based conservation is led by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) Captive Breeding Program and it’s participating facilities. Wildlife Safari is one of these participating facilities, as one of the most successful breeding centers worldwide.
Since Wildlife Safari opened in 1972 we have had 187 cheetah cubs born at the park.
Our youngest cheetah is Pancake, our 9 month old cub. Unfortunately, Pancake’s mother could not produce milk for her, so her keepers have had to raise her instead. Pancake is also our youngest ambassador at the park. She goes out to community events and schools, along with her puppy companion, Dayo, and meets people to teach them about cheetahs, their amazing design, and the difficulties they face.