Pittsburgh Zoo - Cheetah

Cheetah [Acinonyx jubatus]

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Quick Facts

  • Size: 3.5 to 4.5 feet long, 2 to 3 feet tall at the shoulder, and weighing up to 175 pounds
  • Lifespan: 8 to 10 years in the wild, 17+ years in captivity
  • Range: Eastern and Southern Africa
  • Habitat: Dry, open grasslands
  • Diet: Primarily gazelles, wildebeest calves, impalas, and other small hoofed animals. They will also sometimes eat rabbits, hares, warthogs, and birds.

Cheetahs are classified as big cats, but they are physically more similar to greyhound dogs.  Their small heads, physical build, and running ability are very close in structure to these common household pets.  During mating season, male cheetahs even have a vocalization to attract females called a strutter bark. Cheetahs cannot roar like lions or tigers.  However, just like domestic cats, they can purr.

Sometimes confused with leopards, cheetahs have spots instead of rosettes.  Cheetahs also have distinctive markings on their face, known as tear stripes, which are black lines that run from their eyes down their faces along the side of their noses.

The cheetah is the fastest land mammal and is able to reach speeds of 0 to 60 mph in just 3 seconds.  Cheetahs are off the ground more than half of their running time.  Thanks to their ultra-flexible spines, cheetahs can stretch their front legs forward farther than any other cat.  This allows for a longer stride, which is how cheetahs achieve high speeds when running.  Their spinal flexibility also allows cheetahs to twist, turn, and contort themselves in mid-air, allowing them to turn on a dime at high speeds when chasing prey. The standard body temperature of a cheetah is 102 degrees Fahrenheit.  After a few moments of sprinting, this cat's temperature will spike up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cheetahs begin panting while running and it can take 20 minutes for their breathing and temperature to return to normal.

These big cats generally hunt during the mid-day.  They stalk their prey in the tall grasses where they blend in.  When they chase their prey, they sprint very quickly and the chase usually only lasts a minute or less.  They move so fast that they are in the air more than they are on the ground.  Once they catch their prey, cheetahs move their food into a shaded area and eat very quickly.  They scarf down their meal because they are one of the smallest big cats.  If lions or leopards see a cheetah with a catch, they will take it because the cheetah is too small to fight them off.

Female cheetahs live by themselves except when raising young.  Each litter is usually comprised of 2-3 cubs.  Males live in groups called coalitions, which are usually made up of brothers.
Conservation: Loss of habitat and poaching have greatly diminished cheetah populations and their natural habitat.  As a result, many cheetahs are interbreeding, causing genetic defects, higher mortality and infertility rates, and lower resistance to disease.
  • Location in the Zoo: African Savanna
  • Schedule: Outside during warmer temperatures in Spring, Summer, and Fall. Indoor viewing window is available for when they are inside.