|Subspecies|| A. j. hecki|
A. j. fearsoni
A. j. jubatus
A. j. soemmeringii
A. j. venaticus
|Population||7,100 (2016 est.)|
The cheetah or hunting leopard (Acinonyx jubatus) is a member of the feline family, once found throughout much of Africa and southwestern Asia, and now severely reduced in numbers to some 9% or their former range. Known for its spectacular method of hunting - from a stand-still to rapid acceleration within a few seconds - the cheetah is the fastest land animal on earth.
Cheetahs are lanky in look and build, with a broad chest and slim waist set on long legs. They are about 44-55 inches long, excluding the tail, stand 28–35 inches at the shoulder, and weigh between 46–159 pounds. Males are larger than females.
The coat is light orange to tan in color, with white underparts, and covered with irregularly-placed dark spots all over. A black "tear drop" falls from each eye down the sides of the snout. Unlike other cats, the cheetah has rather dog-like claws in that they are blunt and non-retractile, made for gripping traction when running.
And it is in running that makes the cheetah unique among the cats. Setting itself up to deliver an ambush attack, the cheetah will get as close as possible to its prey, generally a small gazelle or similarly-sized animal before making the attack. It can accelerate to nearly 50 MPH within two seconds, and up to 70 MPH within four seconds; prey animals are tripped on the run, with the cheetah immediately biting down on the windpipe to make the kill. Despite their speed, cheetahs are sprinting animals and not endurance runners; they can go no more than a few hundred yards before stopping from exhaustion.
- Acinonyx jubatus hecki; northwestern Africa
- Acinonyx jubatus fearsoni; eastern Africa
- Acinonyx jubatus jubatus; southern Africa
- Acinonyx jubatus soemmerringi; northeastern Africa
- Acinonyx jubatus venaticus; northern Africa, Middle East to central India
Once claimed as a species in its own right was the so-called "king cheetah", which was given the Latin name Acinonyx rex early in the 20th century, and for years afterwards was the subject of cryptozoology. This particular cheetah - with its blotchy spots and thick back stripes - was determined to be a mere color morph of the normal cheetah, the result of a mutated gene.
The cheetah is listed as vulnerable in the ICUN Red Data List, with a recent assessment listing the number of wild cheetahs to approximately 7,000. Cheetahs require large tracts of land in which to hunt, and hence have a low density of numbers where they occur; a density of 0.8-1.0 animals per 100 square kilometers has been cited in the Serengeti Plain for example. Much land has been altered by man, either for farming or livestock, and faced with a reduction in numbers of prey animals some cheetahs have killed domestic livestock; these cheetahs in turn are dealt with as pests. Hunting cheetahs for their skins as well as having the cats as exotic pets have made the most serious inroads into their numbers: the subspecies A. j. venaticus, once found over much of south-central Asia, has been reduced to approximately 50 individuals in Iran; the subspecies A. j. heckii has been reduced to less than 200 in Algeria, and both subspecies are listed as critically endangered.
"While most scientists believe that the cheetah evolved, the very oldest cheetah fossils show us an animal that is just about like the cheetahs we know today. This complete lack of evidence for evolution, plus the intelligent specialized features of the cheetah, lead us to the conclusion that the cheetah is a special creation of God."
- Creation Moments