Today is the seventh annual International Cheetah Day! To celebrate that, we here at Planet Experts have put together this list of fast facts to honor the world’s fastest land mammal. Can you guess what the first fact is?
5) They’re Very Fast
Well, yeah, this one probably goes without saying, but c’mon! Cheetahs are really, really fast! Their whole bodies are streamlined for motion. Their small heads, narrow torsos, hard footpads and relatively low body weight make them extremely nimble, and their keen eyesight makes them excellent daylight hunters. With its springy muscles, this mammal can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in a jaw-dropping three seconds. Measurements of its top speed vary from 68 to 75 mph. Such bursts of speed require enormous amounts of energy, however, and the cheetah cannot maintain it for long. They’re sprinters by nature, utilizing their long, muscular tails like rudders to maintain their balance.
4) They’re Fast Eaters, Too!
By necessity, evolution has forced this big cat to trade power for speed. Nothing on Earth can run as fast as a cheetah, but once it stops moving it can become a target for bigger, tougher predators. When a cheetah takes down its prey (mainly gazelles, wildebeest calves, impalas and smaller hoofed animals), it kills with a bite to the neck and then eats as quickly as it can before the carcass is scavenged by other carnivores.
3) They’re the Only Big Cat That Purrs!
You read that right. According to Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, “Cheetahs are the only big cats that do purr. None of the others do.”
In an interview with Planet Experts, Dr. Marker explained that cheetahs not only purr but also use a range of other vocalizations. “They chirp like birds, they have a dog-like bark, they have a stutter-call,” said Dr. Marker. “[T]heir bird-like chirp is very interesting. It’s very high-pitched, and they usually use it for communications. Male brothers, coalition-brothers, chirp to each other to find each other again after they’ve been out on a hunt.”
4) They’re Disappearing
The cheetah could once be found throughout the African grasslands; today, it is the most endangered big cat on Earth. “Most of the populations remaining throughout Africa are found outside protected areas,” said Dr. Marker, “which puts them in conflict with humans [and] livestock.”
One of the reasons Dr. Marker founded CCF was to stop the common practice of shooting cheetahs on sight. In the late 1970s, she journeyed to Namibia to reintroduce the cheetah Khayam back into the wild. There, she saw firsthand how severe the problem had become. “Farmers were killing cheetahs like flies,” she said. As many as 900 cheetahs were being trapped or shot every year.
Today, the cheetah population has been reduced from an estimated 100,000 to less than 10,000.
5) But You Can Help!
The cheetah is the oldest cat on Earth, but if we’re not careful it will be one of the first to disappear in modern times. But you can help! Here’s what you can do: Spread the word to everyone you know that today is International Cheetah Day. Share these cheetah facts online and face-to-face, and visit the Cheetah Conservation Fund to learn more about how you can volunteer, visit and donate to the cause!