Acinonyx jabatus rex
DESCRIPTION: Like normal cheetahs, king cheetahs also have tall and slim bodies. Although they look similar, the king cheetah has a fur pattern mutation (caused by lack of genetic diversity) which results in its large connected black patches – differing from the smaller and more plentiful spots found on the common cheetah.
COMMUNICATION: Mainly high- pitched chirping calls, marking territory through urine or saliva (through cheek rubbing).
SOCIAL STRUCTURE: Female cheetahs are solitary, unless when raising young where mothers usually stay close together, otherwise they only come into contact with other cheetahs when mating. Males will however form coalitions (mostly between brothers) of about 2-3 to defend more territory. They are not territorial towards each other but are towards other male coalitions.
MALE: Looks similar to females, but are a bit larger in size.
FEMALE: Have a smaller build than males.
YOUNG: Have the same characteristics as their parents.
REPRODUCTION: Cheetahs are the most reproductive cats. They have a gestation period of about 90 – 95 days, after which they give birth to a litter of about 3 – 5 cubs. Male cheetahs do not assist with the raising of the cubs. The mother may leave the cubs to hunt for enough food, and if the food supply is too scarce the cubs may be abandoned. If the litter is lost within the first few weeks, the females are able to come into oestrus again. If the cubs are not lost or abandoned, the mother will move her cubs between locations in order to hide them from potential predators. Cubs are weaned at about 6 – 8 weeks old after which they will follow their mother and learn to hunt and kill. They leave their mothers when they become skilled and efficient hunters able to fend for themselves.
HABITAT: Cheetahs prefer to live in open grassland and savanna-type regions. This habitat type accommodates their way of hunting, which is running to capture prey.
TRACKS AND SIGNS: Cheetahs’ claws do not retract and remain exposed. Their claws protract with every step in order to assist with grip. The ridges on the pads allow efficient movement by preventing slipping. They have digitigrade foot posture, where the heel and instep are raised so that only the digits touch the ground.
HUNTING TECHNIQUE: Cheetahs (the fastest land animals) use their speed to catch prey. Their bodies are especially designed for reaching top speeds of about 112 km/h (69,5 m/h). They have non- retractable claws, tough pads on their feet, their long tails assist with steering, and they have light bones as well as oversized organs such as lungs and heart in order to allow for their high speeds and efficient movement. They also have binocular vision, allowing them to rely more on sight than scent when hunting. The dark tear marks assist with this too. They are solitary diurnal hunters, except when in a coalition, where they will hunt together and attempt to capture larger prey. Once prey has been captured and depending on its size, the cheetah suffocates it by biting at the neck. They often eat quickly after a kill because they are unable to fight off other predators, especially if they are larger.
THREATS: Their biggest threat is habitat loss (due to increased urbanisation and human settlement) and the increase in the number of other predators due to the increase in number of natural parks. They are also hunted by people to keep as trophies.
THE ROLE HESC PLAYS IN THE CONSERVATION OF THESE SPECIES: HESC aims to conserve these species by educating the public about their existence and manners in which to protect them from becoming extinct in the wild. The loss of their unique wetland habitats is becoming an increasing concern to conservationists in the country.
A-Z Animals. 2016. Cheetah. Accessed on 04/02/2016 from: http://a-z-animals.com/animals/cheetah
Cheetah Facts. 2015. The Cheetah. Accessed on 04/02/2016 from: https://bigcatrescue.org/cheetah-facts
Cillié, B. 1997. The mammal guide of Southern Africa, pg. 114- 115. Briza Publications. Pretoria.
Estes, R.D. 1991. The behavior guide to African mammals, pg. 377- 383. The University of California Press. London.
Hine, G. & Hine, G. 2006. Level 1 Learner Manual, pg. 162- 168. Interactive Wildlife Company.
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