The Cheetah is often referred to as the “ghost of the grasses’’ in Africa. Cheetahs are the fastest land mammals.
In October 2009 Taronga Western Plains Zoo welcomed four rare Cheetah cubs that are now out on exhibit for visitors to see. Two of the cubs have been identified as the rare King Cheetah, which has an unusual colour variation.
King Cheetahs are produced when both parents hold the recessive gene, which is why their occurrence is so rare. King Cheetahs differ from other Cheetahs only in their coat pattern. King Cheetah coats have darker spots which form a stripe-like pattern, compared to the lighter more defined spots of a Cheetah. It is estimated that only 60 King Cheetahs remain in the world.
The birth of these four cubs is significant for the regional breeding program, as neither mother Asali or father Masuka have bred before. The genetics of these four cubs is extremely important, more so because two of the cubs carry the recessive King Cheetah gene.
Cheetah Conservation Botswana
Awareness Raising Materials for Community Outreach and Education
Botswana has one of the last viable, free-ranging Cheetah populations in the world. CCB has developed a conservation program focusing on reducing predator/livestock conflict and improving the attitudes of the farming community and their methods of predator control.
In protected areas, Cheetahs are out-competed by large populations of stronger predators and pushed on to marginal land. Here they come into conflict with livestock farmers. As more land is used by commercial farms to supply the overseas beef market, this conflict between communities and predators is increasing.
Conservation of the Cheetah depends on the attitudes of these farming communities.
CCB has three core programs: research, community outreach and education. While CCB's research is focused on the Cheetah, the community outreach and education programs are concerned with all predators and effective land management that can support ecosystem health and biodiversity. We work to improve the methods of livestock farming utilised and encourage the use of effective management and non-lethal methods of predator control. CCB runs community outreach and education programs that work with rural communities living with predators. Activities include community meetings, farmer training workshops, school visits, teacher training workshops and training workshops for the Department of Wildlife. During all these activities, structured materials are distributed on the importance of predators in healthy ecosystems; correct identification of predators; methods of range management, livestock husbandry and non-lethal predator control to minimise conflict and opportunities for potential livelihood diversification.
Taronga Western Plains is the first Zoo in the world to have successfully bred Cheetahs. The Cheetahs are used to educate our visitors about this amazing animal and the importance of preserving its habitat.
At the end of June 2001, the young Cheetahs (all born in August 2000) joined the breeding program already established at Western Plains Zoo over the past 20 years. Altogether the collection represents a likely breeding group for the International Breeding Program, and a valuable resource for their species. Due to breeding success at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Cheetahs have been sent to overseas zoos such as Wellington, Orana Park and interstate to Melbourne.
The Zoo's Cheetah breeding program has had many triumphs since it started and the program last produced a litter of cubs in 2004.
Captive populations in zoos throughout the world remain a part of the International Breeding Program because of the vulnerable status of the Cheetah in the wild. By co-ordinating and co-operating, zoos can maintain genetic diversity within the captive population. This ensures a stable base for future rehabilitation and release programs.
Threats to Survival
The African Cheetah is endangered. They are susceptible to many diseases and deformities due to inbreeding. These problems are thought to have started during the last ice age when most Cheetahs died, leaving only a small genetic pool to breed from. Humans are a major factor pushing the Cheetah towards extinction. The ever-expanding human population has limited Cheetah living space. The decreasing amount of natural habitat available to Cheetahs along with hunting, and the illegal pet trade are considered to be major factors negatively affecting wild Cheetah populations.
Distribution & Habitat
Cheetahs are primarily found in open grassy habitats, but also make use of dry forest, savanna woodland, semi-desert and scrub.
Males and females come together only to mate. The males do not participate in cub rearing. Breeding occurs throughout the year with gestation lasting 90 to 95 days. Usually three to five young are born per litter. At birth, cubs are grey in colour and have a mantle of mane-like hair along their back that helps them camouflage themselves in the grass. During the first few weeks of life the cubs are moved every few days by their mother to avoid predators. The mother must leave the cubs alone to hunt, and during these times cubs often fall victim to predators. Infant mortality rates may be as high as 90 per cent, with the majority killed by lions. Cubs begin to follow their mother at six weeks of age and usually remain with their mother for up to two years, during which time she teaches them to hunt. Life span in the wild can reach 14 years, with an average of seven years.
The Cheetah is carnivorous. Its diet consists primarily of mid-sized ungulates, especially gazelles. Other prey include Impalas, ground-dwelling birds and small mammals, such as rabbits. Cheetahs hunt in the early morning and late afternoon, scanning the countryside from high places such as a tree limb or the top of a termite mound. Once they have located an animal the Cheetah tries to get within fifty yards of the intended victim before accelerating. Full sprints last roughly twenty seconds and rarely exceed one minute. The Cheetah runs up to 103km per hours (29 metres per second) in high speed chases over distances of hundreds of metres. If the hunt is successful, the prey is usually knocked down by the force of the Cheetah's charge and then seized by its throat and strangled. A female with cubs may make a kill every day, whereas lone adults hunt every two to five days. Cheetahs eat fast because if challenged for their food, they will usually lose.
Cheetahs, unlike other African predators, rarely scavenge and do not remain long with their kills, many of which are stolen by other carnivores. Cheetahs are primarily active during the day, unlike other predators, a strategy that may help to reduce competition.
Cheetahs have a social organisation that is unique among the felids. Females are solitary or accompanied by dependent young, and males are either solitary or live in stable coalitions of two or three. Some coalitions consist of brothers, but unrelated males may also be members of the group. Unlike the coalitions formed by male lions, which remain attached to, and mate with, the females in a single pride, male Cheetah coalitions mate with as many females as possible, and females show no mate fidelity.
Female Cheetahs in areas where prey is migratory (such as the Serengeti Plains) follow the herds, while male coalitions establish small territories and attempt to mate with females passing through. However, in areas where prey is non-migratory, males and females have smaller, overlapping ranges that are similar in size.