he cheetah (pronounced /ˈchē-tə/) (Acinonyx jubatus), also known as the hunting leopard, is a big cat that occurs mainly in eastern and southern Africa and a few parts of Iran. The only extant member of the genus Acinonyx, the cheetah was first described by Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber in 1775. The cheetah is characterised by a slender body, deep chest, spotted coat, a small rounded head, black tear-like streaks on the face, long thin legs and a long spotted tail. Its lightly built, thin form is in sharp contrast with the robust build of the other big cats. The cheetah reaches nearly 70 to 90 centimetres (28 to 35 in) at the shoulder, and weighs 21–72 kg (46–159 lb). While it is taller than the leopard, it is notably smaller than the lion. Basically yellowish tan or rufous to greyish white, the coat is uniformly covered with nearly 2,000 black, solid spots.
Cheetah are active mainly during the day; hunting is the major activity. Adult males are sociable despite their territoriality, forming groups called “coalitions”. Females are not territorial; they may be solitary or live with their offspring in home ranges. Carnivores, cheetah mainly prey upon antelopes and gazelles. They will stalk their prey to within 100–300 metres (330–980 ft), charge towards it and kill it by tripping it during the chase and biting its throat to suffocate it to death. The cheetah’s body is specialised for speed; it is the fastest land mammal. The speed of a hunting cheetah averages 64 km/h (40 mph) during a sprint; the chase is interspersed with a few short bursts of speed, when the animal can clock 112 km/h (70 mph). Induced ovulators, breeding in cheetah occurs throughout the year. Gestation is nearly three months long, resulting in a litter of typically three to five cubs (the number can vary from one to eight). Weaning occurs at six months; siblings tend to stay together for some time. Cheetah cubs face higher mortality than most other mammals, especially in the Serengeti region. Cheetah inhabit a variety of habitats – dry forests, scrub forests, savannahs and grasslands.
Classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN, the cheetah has suffered a substantial decline in its historic range due to rampant hunting in the 20th century. Several African countries have taken steps to improve the standards of cheetah conservation. Thanks to its prowess at hunting, the cheetah was tamed and used to kill game at hunts in the past. The animal has been widely depicted in art, literature, advertising and animation.