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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

FASTEST LAND ANIMAL - CHEETAH

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STREAMLINED AND SLENDER, cheetahs are superb sprinters. Using a brief burst of phenomenal speed, they can outrun any other land animal. The cheetah does not look or move like any other big cat. Its exceptionally elongated body and legs enable it to run with the agility of a greyhound. The cheetah is dog-like in other ways, with its blunt, non-retractable claws and barking calls. Most cheetahs are found in the extensive grasslands and semi-desert regions of Africa. A handful cling to survival in Asia.

Daytime Hunter
The cheetah preys on hares, gamebirds, gazelles and antelopes. It hunts by day, either alone or in family groups. The cheetah stalks its prey to within a short distance, using incredible acceleration for a final sprint lasting 20-30 seconds and possibly exceeding 110 km/h (68mph). As it closes in, the cheetah slashes swiftly with the hook-like dewclaw on its front paw, catching the prey by a leg and bringing it down. It kills by suffocation, locking its jaws on the victim's throat. Despite its hunting skills, the cheetah often loses its meal. As it pauses to recover from the chase, scavengers such as hyenas, or even a lion, move in. The cheetah, no match for such competitors, does not defend its kill.

Vulnerable Cubs
Cheetahs breed all year round, the females first mating when they are about two years old. Pregnancy lasts 90-95 days and litters of up to six tiny, blind cubs are born. The young are highly vulnerable to predators. Their long, grey, babyhood fur is believed to provide camouflage among grasses and to mimic the colouring of the fierce honey badger, or ratel, as a deterrent to would-be hunters. Despite this, many cheetah cubs are snatched by other big cats or hyenas. The cubs stay with their mother for about 18 months, learning to hunt. When the female finally leaves them, to breed again, the whole litter normally stays together for several more months.

Solitary Sisters, Brotherly Bonds
The social organization of cheetahs is unusual. Females without cubs tend to live alone. The males, however, often form lifelong bonds with litter-brothers. Single animals of either sex are usually unaggressive nomads, ranging over areas of up t0 1,500 sq km (580 sq miles). All-male groups ('coalitions') keep to much smaller ranges and can be very territorial. Cheetahs do not growl or roar but make bird-like chirruping noises. Like domestic cats, they will spit or hiss in anger and purr when contented. They also use a high-pitched, far-carrying yelp or bark.

Saving the Cheetah
Cheetah numbers are declining because of habitat loss, scarcity of prey, and a weakening of the species through inbreeding. In Asia, fewer than 60 cheetahs survive; throughout Africa there are only about 12,000. Cheetahs are protected in Namibia but most live on farmland so face being captured or shot to prevent them killing livestock. From the early 1990s, the Cheetah Conservation Fund has been working for the long-term conservation of the African cheetah and its habitat. In 2001, programmes began in Iran to save the Asiatic cheetah from extinction.

STATISTICS
Status : Vulnerable
Social Unit : Individual / pair
Length : 1.1 - 1.5 m (3 1/2 - 5 ft)
Tail : 60 - 80 cm (23 1/2 - 32 in)
Shoulder Height : 71 - 80 cm (28 - 31 in)
Sexual Maturity : 20 - 24 months
Breeding Season : All year round
Gestation Period : 90 - 95 days
Number Of Young : 1 - 8; usually 2 - 4
Breeding Interval : 16 - 18 months
Diet : Small antelopes, gazelles, hares, gamebirds
Lifespan : 12 - 14 years

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