Since I was a kid I've had domestic cats. Grew up with them and bought cats when I got my own place. Shared much of my life with domestic cats. For years I lived with Burmese. They are great company and great house mates.
Recently I've been fascinated with one of the big cats of which there are four. Lion, Leopard, Tiger, Cheetah.
The Lion is called king of the cats. Not in my reckoning. The Tiger's habitat is mainly India. The Panther is a tree climber. Not impressed with Lions, Tigers, or Panthers. I reserve my adoration. Of the big cats only one reigns supreme: The Cheetah.
I got interested in the Cheetah when I started research on diet and nutrition. I remember many diet books state that carbohydrates are essential for health and heavy activity. A totally uncontested premise that all athletes need carbs for strength, speed, endurance. I got thinking on this and wondered how the worlds fastest land mammal could run so fast, on a diet of zero carbs?
Cheetahs live on meat. Meat contains zero carbs. So how is this possible? The Cheetah is built for speed. Evolution has sculpted a speed machine. Everything about the cheetah says "fast". It took me a while to appreciate just how good and fine tuned this cat is.
Let me run through a few features:
- It is the worlds fastest land mammal. Faster than a sports car
- At max-speed it hits 70mph in around 3 seconds.
- It spine acts like a spring to thrust it forward with each stride. Its spine compresses and expands.
- On a chase, the cheetah spends 50% its time in mid-air.
- At full pace, its strides cover 7 metres, around 24 feet
- The Cheetah has a 50% kill rate, far higher than any other big cat
- Its body is streamed-lined to cut through the air.
- Its claws only semi-retract, unlike other cats, to aid in its predatory chase
- It uses its tail as a rudder to aid in direction change
- Normally a solo hunter, its hunting skills are taught to young cubs, not inherited
- Cheetah's can see prey or enemies up to 3 miles away
- The word Cheetah is Swahili for fast one.
- The cheetah has an oversize heart to pump sufficient blood and oxygen for the chase
- The Cheetah has oversize lungs to supply sufficient oxygen for its chase
- The Cheetah's ears drop when its in chase mode for an aerodynamic profile
- The Cheetah's head is the same width as its slim body to cut through the air with least resistance
- The black tear streaks below its eyes cut down reflected sun glare
- Cheetah's use stealth to approach their prey
- The Cheetah can outran/outpace any land animal
- The Cheetah is a sprinter not a distance runner
The Cheetah has the highest kill rate of any big cat. The Cheetah does not scavenge, instead depending on its speed and skill. The Cheetah has a kill rate around 50%, a figure no other big cat can match.
The Cheetah is very lightweight and cannot match the bulk or strength of Lions or Leopards, who often steal the Cheetah's kill (as do packs of hyenas). A Cheetah cannot afford to risk injury in a fight with other cats (or hyenas), and will forsake its kill rather than risk injury. Injured Cheetahs cannot run. Cheetahs depend on their speed and agility to catch their prey.
The Cheetah is a threatened species. 40 years ago there were around 100,000 Cheetahs in Namibia, Kenya, Sudan and Iran. The numbers have dropped to 10,000. There are Cheetahs in captivity, but they cannot save the species. Let me explain.
In the wild, the mother tutors the young in the hunt. Over the course of 18 months she trains her cubs in all the necessary techniques such as stalking, chasing, capture and killing prey. Passing on all her skills to her offspring. Cheetahs in captivity do not possess these skills. They are fed raw meat by handlers. They don't chase and kill their prey for their food.
If Cheetah numbers continue to dwindle, the species will become extinct.
Their survival hinges on the ability of the mother to pass on her hunting skills to her offspring. Once the skill is lost, the Cheetah will die out, in the wild. A great loss. A sad loss.
There's a charity in Namibia, the Cheetah Conservation Fund working to save Cheetahs in the wild. The charity tries to educate farmers, who have been the biggest threat to Cheetah numbers in Africa. The charity also treats injured Cheetahs before releasing them back into the wild.
Skip lunch one day a month an donate the cost of your big Mac to the charity. The Cheetah will thank you along with your waistline.
The Cheetah is an awesome cat. Nature's perfect speed machine. Refined over thousands of years. Man has almost destroyed them in less than 100.