LATIN NAMEAcinonyx jubatus
BIOMETemperate Grasslands and deserts
COME AND FIND ME AT..
Cheetah Hill / Cheetah Run
About the Cheetah
Not only is the Cheetah the fastest land animal in the world today, the species has been in existence for between 3.5 and four million years – making it the oldest of Earth’s big cats. Slender bodies, long legs and a flexible spine help the Cheetah achieve speeds in excess of 100kph in pursuit of its prey, with its tail acting as a finely-tuned balancing aid. It also has semi-retractable claws and cannot roar like other big cats.
Native to savannahs or grasslands in eastern and southern Africa and some parts of Iran, the species was once found across Asia and Europe.
The Cheetah has a carnivorous diet – feeding on smaller animals including hares, young antelope and birds – but while it is skilled at stalking and killing prey, it tends to lose up to half of its kill to larger predators.
Females are solitary creatures – in contrast to males, who live in groups – and give birth to between three and six cubs that have a thick mane of grey fur down their back.
Cubs are thought to mimic the ferocious African Honey Badger initially as the animal is not particularly good at defending either itself or its young and will sprint away from danger rather than risk being injured. The mother will leave the cub group at 18 months, with any females venturing out of their own after two years.
The high mortality rate of cubs in the wild (up to 90%) is a key reason why the species is now listed as Vulnerable, with the situation in Asia now considered to be Critical. Breeding programmes have been established to try and reverse this trend but other threats include disease, habitat loss and conflict with man if near livestock areas.
Did You Know?
Despite the Cheetah’s ability to reach high speeds, it can only maintain the effort for about 60 seconds. Any increase in body temperature – even by a couple of degrees – can actually lead to irrecoverable brain damage. Cheetahs often need to rest for up to half an hour to allow their blood cool after a chase.
The Fota Connection.
Renowned for its successful breeding programme, over 200 cheetah cubs have been born in Fota since 1985. The cats are housed in a similar way to how they live in the wild – males together, with females separated – and Fota also has Ireland’s first and only Cheetah Run.
The exhibit keeps the Cheetahs active, while maintaining their wild instincts – though it can take some time for newcomers to understand how to catch their meal! Fota’s Cheetahs are fed chicken, rabbit or horsemeat. Rabbit tends to be their favourite, with richer horsemeat given out once a week.
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