AskDefine | Define cheetah

Dictionary Definition

cheetah n : long-legged spotted cat of Africa and southwestern Asia having nonretractile claws; the swiftest mammal; can be trained to run down game [syn: chetah, Acinonyx jubatus]

User Contributed Dictionary



Hindi चीता (cītā) "leopard, panther", ultimately from Sanskrit चित्र (citra) "multicolored, speckled" + काय (kāya) "body", thus "having a spotted body".




  1. A distinctive member (Acinonyx jubatus) of the cat family , slightly smaller than the leopard, but with proportionately longer limbs and a smaller head; it is native to Africa and also credited with being the fastest terrestrial animal.


Acinonyx jubatus

Extensive Definition

The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is an atypical member of the cat family (Felidae) that is unique in its speed and stealth, while lacking climbing abilities. As such, it is placed in its own genus, Acinonyx. It is the fastest land animal, reaching speeds between and in short bursts covering distances up to , and has the ability to accelerate from 0 to in three seconds, greater than most supercars.
The word "cheetah" is derived from the Sanskrit word chitrakāyaḥ, meaning "variegated body", via the Hindi चीता cītā.


Females reach maturity within twenty to twenty-four months, and males around twelve months (although they do not usually mate until at least three years old), and mating occurs throughout the year. A recent study of cheetahs in the Serengeti showed that female cheetahs are sexually promiscuous and often have cubs by many different males.
Females give birth to up to nine cubs after a gestation period of ninety to ninety-eight days, although the average litter size is three to five. Cubs weigh from to at birth. Unlike some other cats, the cheetah is born with its characteristic spots. Cubs are also born with a downy underlying fur on their necks, called a mantle, extending to mid-back. This gives them a mane or Mohawk-type appearance; this fur is shed as the cheetah grows older. It has been speculated that this mane gives a cheetah cub the appearance of the ratel, to scare away potential aggressors. Cubs leave their mother between thirteen and twenty months after birth. Life span is up to twelve years in the wild, but up to twenty years in captivity.
Unlike males, females are solitary and tend to avoid each other, though some mother/daughter pairs have been known to be formed for small periods of time. The cheetah has a unique, well-structured social order. Females live alone except when they are raising cubs and they raise their cubs on their own. The first eighteen months of a cub's life are important - cubs learn many lessons because survival depends on knowing how to hunt wild prey species and avoid other predators. At eighteen months, the mother leaves the cubs, who then form a sibling, or "sib" group, that will stay together for another six months. At about two years, the female siblings leave the group, and the young males remain together for life.



Males are very sociable and will group together for life, usually with their brothers in the same litter; although if a cub is the only male in the litter then two or three lone males may group up, or a lone male may join an existing group. These groups are called coalitions. A coalition is six times more likely to obtain an animal territory than a lone male, although studies have shown that coalitions keep their territories just as long as lone males — between four and four and a half years.
Males are very territorial. Females' home ranges can be very large and trying to build a territory around several females' ranges is impossible to defend. Instead, males choose the points at which several of the females' home ranges overlap, creating a much smaller space, which can be properly defended against intruders while maximizing the chance of reproduction. Coalitions will try their most to maintain territories in order to find females with whom they will mate. The size of the territory also depends on the available resources; depending on the part of Africa, the size of a male's territory can vary greatly from 37 to 160 square kilometers.
Males mark their territory by urinating on objects that stand out, such as trees, logs, or termite mounds. The whole coalition contributes to the scent. Males will attempt to kill any intruders and fights result in serious injury or death.


Unlike males and other felines, females do not establish territories. Instead, the area they live in is termed a home range. These overlap with other females' home ranges; often it will be the sisters from the same litter or a daughter's home range overlapping with her mother's. Females, however, always hunt alone, although once their cubs reach the age of five to six weeks they take them along to show them how it is done. The size of a home range depends entirely on the availability of prey. Cheetahs in southern African woodlands have ranges as small as 34 square km, while in some parts of Namibia they can reach . Although there have been no studies, it is expected that the home ranges of females in the Sahara desert have the largest of all the cheetah populations.


The cheetah cannot roar, unlike other big cats, but does have the following vocalizations:
  • Yipping - When cheetahs attempt to find each other, or a mother tries to locate her cubs, it uses a high-pitched barking called yipping. The yips made by a cheetah cub sound more like a bird chirping, and so are termed chirping.
  • Churring or stuttering - This vocalization is emitted by a cheetah during social meetings. A churr can be seen as a social invitation to other cheetahs, an expression of interest, uncertainty, or appeasement or during meetings with the opposite sex (although each sex churrs for different reasons).
  • Growling - This vocalization is often accompanied by hissing and spitting and is exhibited by the cheetah during annoyance, or when faced with danger.
  • Yowling - This is an escalated version of growling, usually displayed when danger worsens.
  • Purring - This is made when the cheetah is content, usually during pleasant social meetings (mostly between cubs and their mothers).

Interspecific predatory relationships

Cheetahs are outranked by all the other large predators in most of their range. Because they are designed for extreme bursts of short speed at the expense of both power and the ability to climb trees, they cannot defend themselves against most of Africa's other predator species. They avoid fighting typically and will surrender a kill immediately to even a single hyena, rather than risk any injury, as anything that slows them down is essentially life threatening. The cheetah's death rate is very high during the early weeks of its life; up to 90% of cheetah cubs are killed during this time by lions, leopards, hyenas or even by eagles. Cheetah cubs often hide in thick brush for safety. Mother cheetahs will defend their young and are at times successful in driving predators away from their cubs. Coalitions of male cheetahs can also chase away other predators, depending on the coalition size and the size and number of the predator. Because of its speed, a healthy adult cheetah has no predators.
A cheetah has a 50% chance of losing its kills to other predators. the distribution of the cheetah is now limited to Africa.
Of the five subspecies of cheetah in the genus Acinonyx, four live in Africa and one in Iran. It is possible, though doubtful, that some cheetahs remain in India. There have also been several unconfirmed reports of Asiatic cheetahs in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, with at least one dead animal being recovered recently.

Genetics and classification

The genus name, Acinonyx, means "no-move-claw" in Greek, while the species name, jubatus, means "maned" in Latin, a reference to the mane found in cheetah cubs.
The cheetah has unusually low genetic variability and a very low sperm count, which also suffers from low motility and deformed flagellae
Cheetahs are included on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) list of vulnerable species (African subspecies threatened, Asiatic subspecies in critical situation) as well as on the U.S. ESA: threatened species - Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Approximately 12,400 cheetahs remain in the wild in twenty-five African countries; Namibia has the most, with about 2,500. Another fifty to sixty critically endangered Asiatic cheetahs are thought to remain in Iran. There have been successful breeding programs, including the use of in-vitro fertilization, in zoos around the world.
Founded in Namibia in 1990, the Cheetah Conservation Fund's mission is to be an internationally recognised centre of excellence in research and education on cheetahs and their eco-systems, working with all stakeholders to achieve best practice in the conservation and management of the world's cheetahs. The CCF has also set stations throughout South Africa in order to keep the conservation effort going.
The Cheetah Conservation Foundation was set up in 1993 for cheetah protection. It is based in South Africa.

Cultural references to cheetahs

  • In Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne (1523), the god's chariot is borne by cheetahs (which were used as hunting animals in Renaissance Italy). Cheetahs were often associated with the god Dionysus, whom the Romans called Bacchus.
  • George Stubbs' Cheetah with Two Indian Attendants and a Stag (1764-1765) also shows the cheetah as a hunting animal and commemorates the gift of a cheetah to George III by the English Governor of Madras, Sir George Pigot
  • The Caress (1896), by the Belgian symbolist painter Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921), is a representation of the myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx and portrays a creature with a woman's head and a cheetah's body (often misidentified as a leopard's).
  • André Mercier's Our Friend Yambo (1961) is a curious biography of a cheetah adopted by a French couple and brought to live in Paris. It is seen as a French answer to Born Free (1960), whose author, Joy Adamson, produced a cheetah biography of her own, The Spotted Sphinx (1969).
  • Clare Bell's young adult novel Tomorrow's Sphinx (1986) is an unusual story from the point of view of a misfit cheetah living on an abandoned Earth far in the future.
  • The animated series ThunderCats had a main character who was an anthropomorphic cheetah named Cheetara.
  • In 1986 Frito-Lay introduced an anthropomorphic cheetah, Chester Cheetah, as the mascot for their Cheetos.
  • Comic book superheroine Wonder Woman's chief adversary is Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva, alias The Cheetah
  • The 2005 movie Duma is about a young South African attempting to return his pet cheetah, Duma, to the wild, with many adventures along the way. It was based on the book "How It Was With Dooms: A True Story from Africa" by Carol Cawthra Hopcraft and Xan Hopcraft.
  • On the CGI animated show Beast Wars: Transformers, Cheetor, one of the main characters on the Maximal faction had the beast form of a cheetah. This was also carried over as the beast form of the Cheetor Hasbro transformer.
  • The Japanese anime Damekko Doubutsu features a clumsy but sweet-natured cheetah named Chiiko.
  • The first release of Apple Computer's Mac OS X was code-named "Cheetah," which set the pattern for the subsequent releases being named after big cats.
  • Cheetah is a 1989 live-action film from Walt Disney Pictures starring Keith Coogan.


General references

  • Great Cats, Majestic Creatures of the Wild, ed. John Seidensticker, illus. Frank Knight, (Rodale Press, 1991), ISBN 0-87857-965-6
  • Cheetah, Katherine (or Kathrine) & Karl Ammann, Arco Pub, (1985), ISBN 0-668-06259-2.
  • Cheetah (Big Cat Diary), Jonathan Scott, Angela Scott, (HarperCollins, 2005), ISBN 0-00-714920-4
  • Science (vol 311, p 73)
  • Cheetah, Luke Hunter and Dave Hamman, (Struik Publishers, 2003), ISBN 1-86872-719-X
  • Allsen, Thomas T. (2006). "Natural History and Cultural History: The Circulation of Hunting Leopards in Eurasia, Seventh-Seventeenth Centuries." In: Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World. Ed. Victor H. Mair. University of Hawai'i Press. Pp. 116-135. ISBN-13: ISBN 978-0-8248-2884-4; ISBN-10: ISBN 0-8248-2884-4
cheetah in Afrikaans: Jagluiperd
cheetah in Arabic: فهد
cheetah in Breton: Kazh-ki
cheetah in Bulgarian: Гепард
cheetah in Catalan: Guepard
cheetah in Czech: Gepard štíhlý
cheetah in Danish: Gepard
cheetah in German: Gepard
cheetah in Estonian: Gepard
cheetah in Modern Greek (1453-): Γατόπαρδος
cheetah in Spanish: Acinonyx jubatus
cheetah in Esperanto: Gepardo
cheetah in Basque: Gepardo
cheetah in Persian: یوزپلنگ
cheetah in French: Guépard
cheetah in Galician: Guepardo
cheetah in Korean: 치타
cheetah in Croatian: Gepard
cheetah in Ido: Gepardo
cheetah in Indonesian: Cheetah
cheetah in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Gepardo
cheetah in Icelandic: Blettatígur
cheetah in Italian: Acinonyx jubatus
cheetah in Hebrew: ברדלס
cheetah in Georgian: ავაზა
cheetah in Swahili (macrolanguage): Duma
cheetah in Latin: Acinonyx
cheetah in Luxembourgish: Gepard
cheetah in Lithuanian: Gepardas
cheetah in Limburgan: Jachluipeerd
cheetah in Hungarian: Gepárd
cheetah in Malayalam: ചീറ്റപ്പുലി
cheetah in Dutch: Jachtluipaard
cheetah in Japanese: チーター
cheetah in Norwegian: Gepard
cheetah in Norwegian Nynorsk: Gepard
cheetah in Occitan (post 1500): Acinonyx jubatus
cheetah in Polish: Gepard
cheetah in Portuguese: Chita (animal)
cheetah in Romanian: Ghepard
cheetah in Russian: Гепард
cheetah in Simple English: Cheetah
cheetah in Slovak: Gepard
cheetah in Slovenian: Gepard
cheetah in Serbian: Гепард
cheetah in Finnish: Gepardi
cheetah in Swedish: Gepard
cheetah in Tagalog: Acinonyx jubatus
cheetah in Thai: เสือชีตาห์
cheetah in Vietnamese: Báo săn
cheetah in Turkish: Çita
cheetah in Ukrainian: Гепард
cheetah in Walloon: Guepard
cheetah in Contenese: 獵豹
cheetah in Chinese: 猎豹

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Leo, Siberian tiger, bobcat, cat-a-mountain, catamount, cougar, jaguar, leopard, lion, lynx, mountain lion, ocelot, painter, panther, puma, simba, tiger, wildcat
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