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10 Cheetah Tricks

By Kathy Kranking; Photos by Suzi Eszterhas

Cheetahs Sept. 2015 RR

Cheetahs are famously fast, reaching speeds of 60 miles per hour in just three seconds! That’s about as  fast as a car goes on the highway. These cats’ bodies are built for running down prey. Their long legs and flexible spines let them cover 25 feet in a single stride. And their claws (above) help them get a grip on the ground for fast starts and quick changes in direction. Cheetahs also have extra-large lungs to gulp in lots
of air as they run. 

One of the first things you notice about a cheetah is the black lines that go down from its eyes. They’re
for more than looks, though. Dark colors absorb more sunlight than light ones. So the dark stripes help
to reduce the sun’s glare when the cheetah is hunting. The black marks football players wear under their
eyes work the same way.

Cheetahs Sept. 2015 RR

With their golden, spotted fur, cheetahs blend into the darks and lights of the grasses in their African home. This camouflage (CAM-uh-flahzh) keeps cheetahs hidden as they hunt for prey. And it makes cheetah cubs harder for predators to see.

By the way, cheetahs are the only big cats that have solid spots. And if you could part a cheetah’s hair to peek at its skin, you’d see that it’s spotted, too!

Cheetahs use certain trees to communicate with each other. They spray the trees with urine to leave
messages. The messages may say things such as, “No trespassing” or “I was here.” By sniffing the trees,
cheetahs get the latest news. It’s usually males that spray the trees, but females may spray to let males know that they’re ready to mate.

A mother cheetah has a huge job. All alone, she must take care of her cubs—sometimes as many as six of them. She cleans them, feeds them, and tries to keep them safe. But predators, such as lions and hyenas, are a real danger to cheetah cubs. So every few days, the mom moves her babies to a new nest. One
by one, she picks them up gently in her mouth and carries them to the new location. Hiding the babies this way can help the mom stay one step ahead of predators that might pick up the babies’ scent.

Cheetahs Sept. 2015 RR

Whether chasing each other, having a “slap fight”, or attacking Mom’s head, cheetah cubs love to play! But playing is more than fun—it’s also serious business. Playing helps cubs develop coordination and timing. And it teaches them lessons such as stalking, chasing, and pouncing—skills they’ll need later to become good hunters.

In order to learn important life lessons, cheetah cubs watch their mom and do what she does. For instance,
adult cheetahs spend a lot of time staring at the horizon, watching for prey or predators. They can see as well as a person looking through binoculars. The cubs learn by watching their mom, so they stare, too. When the cubs are the right age, their mom starts taking them on hunting trips. They watch her to learn what to do, then begin practicing themselves.

Speed is only part of what makes a cheetah a good hunter. This cat has to be sneaky, too. A cheetah can
chase prey at top speed for only a short distance. So it needs to get as close to its prey as it can first—by
stalking, or moving slowly and staying low to the ground. Then, when the cheetah is close enough, it zooms after the prey. As it overtakes the animal, the cheetah reaches out a paw and trips it. Then it bites the animal’s throat, killing it quickly. After a chase, a cheetah needs to rest for up to half an hour.

Cheetahs Sept. 2015 RR

It’s hard work catching prey, and even the best hunters aren’t always successful. So sometimes cheetahs take the easy way out and prey on farm animals. It seems like a good solution to the cheetahs—but not to the farmers, who then kill cheetahs to protect their animals. The good news is that now many farms are using dogs to solve the problem. Puppies are raised on the farms with the animals. The puppies bond with the farm animals and later protect them by barking at any predators. The cheetahs stay away and are safe. It’s a “doggone” good idea!

People love cheetahs for their beauty, speed, and gentle nature. For tourists that come to Africa, getting to see a cheetah—or even having some climb onto their safari truck—is a dream come true. Sadly, cheetahs are Africa’s most endangered big cats because of conflicts with humans, habitat loss, and other problems. But people are working on many ways to help them. They hope that cheetahs will continue racing across the  grasslands far into the future.



"10 Cheetah Tricks" originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Ranger Rick magazine. Click here for a close-up view of the photos.

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