With the exception of the lion (Panthera leo), the cheetah is thought to be the most sociable of the big cats (3). Siblings stay together for around six months after leaving the mother (3) (8), and brothers will often remain together for life (2) (6). In the Serengeti, where the majority of research on the cheetah has been undertaken, male coalitions are common and around a third of the time these involve unrelated males. It is thought that the male cheetah benefits from living in groups by being able to obtain and keep territories, which in turn allows it greater access to females. Apart from when they have young, females are solitary and non-territorial, occupying vast home ranges as large as 800 square kilometres (2).
Female cheetahs become sexually mature at around two years old (3), and can give birth at any time of year (3) (8) (10). At three or four cubs, the average litter size of the cheetah is larger than that of other big cats (3) (8), and litters of up to eight cubs have been recorded (8). After a gestation period of between 90 and 95 days, the blind, helpless cubs are born (6) (8), and are nursed in a lair hidden in a rocky outcrop or within tall grasses (2). Until the cubs are around eight weeks old, the female must leave them alone while she hunts (2), although the female tends to move the young to a new den every few days to avoid predation (6) (8). The death rate of young cheetahs is high, mainly due to the high risk of predation by lions, hyaenas and even baboons (3).
The cheetah is a formidable, agile predator, and it uses its incredible speed to out-run its prey (6). Medium-sized antelopes such as Thomson’s gazelle (Gazella thomsoni) make up the majority of the cheetah’s diet on the plains (3) (8), but males hunting together in a coalition often select larger species such as wildebeest (8). Hunting mainly during the day to avoid competition with larger predators such as lions and hyaenas (8), the cheetah creeps as close as possible to its chosen prey before bursting into a chase at full speed (6). The cheetah is able to maintain a speed of up to 87 kilometres an hour for 200 to 300 metres (3), before tripping up its prey or knocking it down with a front paw (6) (8). After bringing its prey to the ground, the cheetah lunges for its victim’s throat (3), killing it quickly through strangulation (6) (8). The carcass is devoured rapidly, as the cheetah is often displaced from its kill by the more aggressive carnivores of the plains, such as the lion (3) (8).