Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus
The cheetahs are felines but they are unique! This animal is so special that zoologists describe it as a separate genus or even separate subfamily. Special features of the cheetahs refer, first of all, to their hunting strategies: they chase their prey while other felids stalk it. Moreover, this carnivore resembles a long-legged hound dog rather than a cat (Photos 1, 2, 7, 8). Small head with high-set eyes and small round ears (Photos 3, 4, 5) help to make the cheetah’s body more aerodynamic. Cheetahs are unable to pull in their claws like other cats, which provides for very good traction with the ground and allows the animals to keep balance when they are running at a high speed, making 6-7-meters long strides. Extremely flexible spine (Figure 6) and long spotted tail allow the cheetah to make sharp swift turns. Cheetahs usually prey on small antelopes. While hunting, they are stalking their prey as close as several dozen meters, and than chase it in a short sprint, sometimes reaching the speed of more than 100 kph. Cheetahs were born to sprint, and they are able to accelerate from 0 to over 85 kph in three seconds – it is more than the Ferrari can do!!! However, the cheetah rarely lasts longer than 400 meters, while most antelopes can run much further. If the animal kept running, its muscles would require such a huge amount of oxygen that even cheetah’s strong heat and enlarged lungs could not provide. Therefore, if the prey is not caught within a distance of three of four hundred meters, cheetahs have to stop and rest. The cheetah’s jaws are not very strong, but they also have prominent dew claws on the front paws that are used as hooks to trip up fast-running prey.
Social structure of these unique carnivores is also quite unusual; male litter-mates often remain in coalitions, hunting together. Females split off upon reaching sexual maturity and stay solitary for the rest of their lives, though several sisters may raise their offspring together (in captivity unrelated females may live in a group). Females give birth to two to six cubs after a gestation period of eighty-five to ninety-eight days. Helpless cubs born in the open are easy prey for predators but the cubs are born with a downy underlying fur on their necks, called a mantle, extending to the tail – probably, it serves as a camouflage, protecting little cheetahs from potential enemies. The eyes of the cubs open on the 10th day, and by the age of three weeks the cubs can follow their mother, but even fully grown young cheetahs can not kill fast-running antelopes on their own. Young cheetahs become completely independent by the age of 18-22 months.