Behavior and Feeding

Behavior and Feeding


Family Life

Cheetahs will live solitarily or in small groups.  Adult females tend to live alone except when raising cubs.  After leaving their den, brothers will stay together in groups of 2 to 4 called coalitions.  They will live with each other for the rest of their lives.   These groups can even contain unrelated males, but never females.  Females establish large territories and defend them against intruding females.  Males also establish territories, but they are generally smaller and overlap into the female territories.  These territories will change over time, especially during drought, because cheetahs will follow their prey. 

Social Behavior

Cheetah's are the only large cats that do not roar.  However, they are able to purr, which is common when greeting a known individual.  An assortment of   sounds are used during different situations. They can bark, chirp, and make several distinct noises that resemble that of birds. Similar to most territorial animals, urination is the primary means of marking territory.  When showing aggression they will lower their head below shoulder level.  When fighting each other, cheetah usually don't use their teeth.  If they do bite, they will only bite the legs and never the throat.  When greeting familiar cheetahs they will use behaviors that many people observe dogs doing.  These include; sniffing, licking, and cheek rubbing.  When in distress a cheetah will make a "bleating" sound which is a type of moaning noise.

Let the Hunt Begin

Photo copyright Colin Paterson-Jones

Gazelles, impalas, hares, young wildebeests, and new born warthogs often fall prey to the lightning quick cheetah.  Males will sometimes hunt together to kill larger prey such as zebra.  A cheetah may stalk within 80 yards of their prey, then use an open pursuit and sprint towards their prey.  A cheetah can go from 0-45 miles per hour in 2 seconds, and reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour! However, they tire very quickly and can only maintain that speed for about 300 yards.  A a cheetah will abort a hunt if dodged 3 or 4 times by their prey.  When a cheetah closes in, the use of a dew claw on the forepaw and the combination of running at high speed will cause the prey to fall or be tackled.  At which point the cheetah will bite the throat of the prey until the animal suffocates.  Other large cats such as lions have strong jaws and teeth and will simple pierce the back of the prey's neck, killing it almost instantly. 

Photo retrieved from copyright 2002 Richard Wainscoat

After the hard work a cheetah must rest in the shade to catch its breath before eating.  If it does not its body temperature may increase to dangerous levels.  After a hearty meal a cheetah may be able to fast for 2-5 days if necessary.  These animals can also go days without water because they can hydrate by eating the fluid filled flesh of their prey.  This makes them more suitable in dry habitats.

Photo copyright 2002 Richard Wainscoat

Factors that lead to hunting success include the prey herd size, prey responses, number of cheetah hunting and the distance the cheetah has to run.  Cheetahs hunt during the day to avoid competition with lions and hyenas who are less active during the day.  Cheetahs are very timid and avoid lions and hyenas at all costs.  Their fresh kill is often taken by an intruding hyena or lion because the cheetah is too timid and tired to put up a fight.  Many times cheetahs are even threatened by their prey. A cheetah is specialized for catching their prey on the run, if a large prey stands its ground a cheetah is almost helpless because it can't take it down.  Cheetahs will respond to a larger prey standing its ground by growling and foot(paw) stomping.  Sometimes the PREY will even charge the CHEETAH, in which cause the cheetah usually responds by fleeing the scene.  The cheetah's speed make it an excellent hunter, but its timid nature and lack of endurance inhibits it from repetitive hunting success.

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