Written by ANTHONY HAM
The cheetah is not just the fastest land animal on the planet. It is also one of the most graceful.
Few moments out on the plains of Africa can match the thrill of a cheetah on the hunt – the tension as its gaze locks on its prey, the astonishing acceleration, and the agility that becomes a blur.
There are far fewer cheetahs than there are lions and leopards in Africa, so finding them can require careful preparation. Following our guide should lead you right there.
The cheetah is a remarkable piece of natural engineering with a series of evolutionary adaptations perfectly suited to its fast-paced life.
Cheetahs have the longest legs of any cat, enabling a stride of up to 10m in length – perfect for long chases over open ground.
Their lower hind-leg bones are secured tightly together by fibrous tissue which enables explosive acceleration, high-speed stability and protects against stress injuries.
Their unretractable claws may mean that they’re not very good at climbing trees, but they serve a purpose not unlike sprinters' spikes.
Cheetahs are significantly smaller and lighter than leopards and lions, with the largest males of the latter being more than four times the bulk of the biggest cheetah.
This slender cat's body is between one and 1.5m long, although the tail can add almost another metre to its length. Adults can weigh as little as 21kg but not more than 64kg.
Cheetah cubs grow quickly in size but are distinguishable by the fluffy grey tuft of hair that runs along the backs of their necks.
A solitary cat
Cheetahs are a curious mix of solitary and social. Female cheetahs mostly live on their own, except when they are rearing their cubs who remain dependent upon their mothers from 12 to 20 months.
Female cheetahs, unlike other big cats, are not territorial, and roam across extremely large home ranges.
Male cheetahs are more difficult to categorise. Most form coalitions with other males, but, unlike many coalitions of male lions, these males are not always related.
When it comes to territories, male cheetahs are similarly difficult to predict – some defend home ranges, while others roam across vast distances.