<i>WET AND WILD: </i>Cheetah moms have four to six cubs. It’s Mom’s job to teach her cubs how to survive in the dry, open grasslands of Africa and Asia.<br>
WET AND WILD: Cheetah moms have four to six cubs. It’s Mom’s job to teach her cubs how to survive in the dry, open grasslands of Africa and Asia.
Photograph by Paul and Paveena Mckenzie, Visuals Unlimited, Getty Images


Fastest mammal on land, the cheetah can reach speeds of 60 or perhaps even 70 miles (97 or 113 kilometers) an hour over short distances. It usually chases its prey at only about half that speed, however. After a chase, a cheetah needs half an hour to catch its breath before it can eat.

Common Name:
Scientific Name:
Acinonyx jubatus
Average Life Span In The Wild:
Up to 14 years
Average Life Span In Captivity:
Up to 20 years
Body: 3.7 to 4.6 feet; tail: two to 2.7 feet
77 to 143 pounds

These cats are nimble at high speeds, able to make quick and sudden turns in pursuit of prey. Cheetahs’ bodies are uniquely adapted to help them reach top speeds, from their long, slender limbs and hard foot pads to the flexible spine that gives them their long stride.

Cheetahs are famous for their tawny coats covered in black spots, each arranged in a unique pattern to help the animals identify one another. Bold black stripes streak like tears from the inner corners of their eyes down to both sides of their mouths, and the ends of their bushy tails have black rings.

The cheetah's excellent eyesight helps it find prey during the day. The cheetah is hard to see because its spotted coat blends with the tall, dry grass of the plains. 

Cheetahs eat small- to medium-size animals, such as hares, impalas, wildebeest calves, and gazelles. 

Because of their size, strength, and predatory skills, some scientists consider cheetahs to be one of the “big cats.” Tigers, lions, leopards, and jaguars are also part of this grouping. Unlike the rest of the group, cheetahs can’t roar, though they can they purr.

Although they typically prefer open grasslands, cheetahs live in a range of habitats across eastern and southern Africa. 

Once found throughout Asia and Africa, cheetahs today are racing toward extinction. Loss of habitat and declining numbers of their prey combine to threaten the future of these cats.

Take the big cat quiz to see how much you know about these fierce felines. Then, just for fun, see which wild cat you’re most like with our personality quiz.

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