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NEW DELHI Aug 31, 2021 18:00

Cheetah: The fastest land animal on Earth

Nature has given us some wonderful creatures that do not believe in speed limits. Fastest mammal on land is the cheetah or acinonyx jubatus. The name ‘cheetah’ comes from Hindi ‘chita’ or spot. Acinonyx in Greek means ‘immovable claw’, because unlike most other cats, a cheetah can’t draw in its nails. And jubatus is Latin for ‘mane’ or ‘crest’, a reference to the short mane baby cheetahs have.  

How fast can a cheetah run? 
A cheetah can reach a speed of 97 to 113 kilometres per hour over short distances. But it usually prefers chasing prey at about half that speed. After a very fast chase, a cheetah might need half an hour to catch its breath before it can eat peacefully. Besides, like other feline, the cheetah loves being lazy and sleeping in the shade. It belongs to a feline subgroup with lynx, bobcat, caracal, puma, fishing cat, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, and serval. All of these large cats can achieve high speed when chasing prey, but their prey moves just as fast, often faster. Many deer can maintain high speed over long distances, so even when the cheetah gets tired, they keep running till the distance gap is so much that the cheetah simply can’t catch them anymore.  

Where do cheetahs live and when do they hunt? 
Cheetahs prefer living only in grasslands. They primarily live in eastern and southern Africa, though a few might be found in North Africa and Iran. They have been declared endangered. 50 to 75% cubs die within the first few months from disease and predators. Humans are the worst predators and thousands of cheetahs have been killed for their skin.  

Unlike most other cats, cheetahs prefer hunting at day, particularly early morning or early evening. They prey on small antelopes such as Thomson’s gazelles and impalas, although they also hunt small mammals and birds. While hunting, the cheetah moves stealthily as close as possible to its prey before trying to outrun and catch it with a burst of speed. Then the cheetah uses its paw to swipe the animal to the ground and kill it by biting the neck. It eats as quickly as possible while looking out for scavengers such as lions, leopards, hyenas, vultures, and jackals, since they all try to steal from the very shy cheetah.