With a completely different body shape to the other felids, Cheetahs neither fit into the ‘big cat’ or ‘small cat’ categories and as such belong to their own genus Acinonyx.
Often mistaken for leopards, the cheetah has a very different body shape, being very narrow and lightweight with long slender limbs. Along with this the coat is covered in single spotted markings very unlike the leopards heavily rosetted coat. Paired with their distinctive tear-drop facial markings the cheetah are one of the most easily identifiable felids. They are currently the worlds fastest land mammals, capable of reaching speeds of up to 68mph with a stride of 7 metres.
Although capable of reaching such speeds, they can only be maintained for a short period of time. Other additions, which aid in their speed include a very flexible spine and tail, which is flattened at its tip to provide a counter balance for instant changes in direction. Hardened footpads and semi-retractable blunt claws help to grip the ground much like a sprinters running spikes to increase speed. At top speed, there are two times in one stride when the cheetah’s body is completely off the ground: once with all four legs extended and once with all bunched under the body.
In the wild the cheetah is a very prolific breeder and can have litters of up to 9 or 10 young. This is mostly to combat the very high mortality rate that cheetah youngsters suffer due to predation from other carnivores along with the fact that cheetah cannot afford to be confrontational and will often have to chose ‘flight’ in a fight or flight situation.
Location: Big Cat Sanctuary Kent
Photographer: Paul Russell