Friday, August 12, 2011


                                     One of the most beautiful big cats is the cheetah. (Acinonyx jubatus )  Cheetahs are quite elusive in the wild. The word "cheetah" is derived from a Sanskrit word  meaning "variegated." Their spotted coat acts to camouflage them in the grasses of the African plains.  The dark stripes around their eyes act to decrease the brightness and glare of the hot African sun.  Cheetahs are the only cat that does not have retractable claws.  The genus name, Acinonyx, is Greek and means "no-move-claw."  The species name, jubatus, is Latin and means "maned", which refers to the mane found in cheetah cubs.

The cheetah is the fastest land mammal reaching running speeds of 60-70 mph and is able to go from 0 to 60 miles an hour in only three seconds!  Because of their speed, they are very successful at hunting.  Cheetahs hunt during the day by first using their keen eyesight to find its prey. Once in their sights, they stalk and chase it down. The kill lasts only 20-60 seconds.  After the kill, the cheetah needs about 30 minutes to catch its breath before eating.  It often drags the kill to a shady spot not only to hide from their  own predators, but also to hide from other animals who may steal their hunting reward before it can be eaten.  Because of prowling in the daylight hours, they are vulnerable to being preyed upon by their natural enemies: lions. 

Cheetahs are listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN red list.  They used to roam most of Africa and Asia, but their numbers have decreased drastically due to human encroachment of their habitat. Currently, their range of habitat is only south of the Sahara Desert.  According to Defenders of Wildlife, it is estimated that only 9000-12,000 cheetahs remain in the wild.  Their typical prey of hares, impalas, gazelles and wildebeest calves are also declining in numbers.  Cheetah cubs have a high mortality rate falling prey to lions, hyenas, and even eagles during their first 3 months of life.

On my most recent trip to Namibia, I had the thrilling opportunity to observe and photograph these beautiful cats at Harnas Wildlife Foundation. 

Images of my memorable afternoon with the cheetahs can be seen in the Cheetah Photo Gallery at

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