The Cheetah above all else is the most reproductive cat. Why then is it so endangered? The answer is two-fold. Cheetah cubs often fall prey to Lions, Jackals, Birds of Prey, and Hyenas, as the mother must leave them behind while hunting for food. Even if the mother was near, she could not fend off an animal as large as a Lion or Hyena, the Cheetah was built for running not fighting. 90% of Cheetahs born die with in the first 3 months, 50% of which are destroyed by predators. The other 40% fall victim to lack of genetic diversity. This is the second reason for their inability to survive. This genetic peril is responsible for weak and underdeveloped immune systems. Disease and illness attack a weak immune system, which in turn causes death. Most cubs do not even make it past 1 month old when this is the case.
After a gestation period of 90-95 days a female Cheetah will give birth to a litter of 3-5 cubs. The largest litter recorded in captivity was 8. The male Cheetah does not participate in the rearing of the cubs. The mother may leave the cubs for as long as 48 hours in order to hunt for enough food to sustain her in a lactating state. If the food supply is too scarce the mother may abandon the cubs, so as to maintain her way of life. Also if the litter is lost with in the first few weeks the female will come into estrus in the next few days. If this is not the case the mother will return and move the cubs from one location to another to better hide the smell of her young from predators. Sometimes the mother will even wait until night falls to return to her cubs, so that she is not as easily followed.
The cubs are usually weaned at 6-8 weeks and will then leave the den and follow the mother from then on. If a young cub loses its original family, due to some great misfortune, it will find another family and join them despite the ill will from the new mother and being out cast by the new brothers and sisters. At 5 months old, the cubs are playing with one another, sharpening their stalking, chasing, and wrestling skills in a playful manner. At 6 months the mother Cheetah will fetch live prey injuring it and then giving it to the cubs so they may practice the art of the kill. At 8 months the cubs are chasing inappropriately large prey such as Giraffes. A Cheetah will not be a very skilled and efficient hunter until about 3 years of age. Cheetah cubs kill less than 10% of the prey, which the family feeds on. At 15-24 months the cubs will leave the mother, but may stay together for several more months. Young females will leave her brothers when they reach sexual maturity. Young males will travel far from parents and will lay claim to a territory as large as 300-800 square miles. Young females will stay closer to home and may even overlap territory with the mother.
Female Cheetahs are solitary animals except when rearing a litter. Mothers with cubs will usually stay with in close proximity of one another. Females only come in contact with other Cheetahs in order to mate.
Males on the other hand will sometimes form coalitions of 2-3 in order to defend more land. These coalitions are mostly formed between brothers, but sometimes include outsiders. 30 % of coalitions are unrelated. Males are not territorial towards each other, but are in fact towards other males or coalitions. Due to coalitions fighting against one another the ratio has dropped to one male for every two females.
Cheetahs communicate in many different ways. Some of these are through vocalizations such as purrs, bleats, barks, growls, hisses, and a high pitched chirping sound. Another way to communicate is through marking. A Cheetah will mark their territory by urinating or by cheek and chin rubbing. Saliva that is secreted contains the same chemical information about the animals, as does the urine. Cheetahs will mark territory so that they can better avoid one another.
The Cheetah is the fastest land animal, reaching a top speed of 70 mph! The Cheetah however can only run for short sprints of up to 300 yards. These sprints will usually last for 20 seconds, but rarely ever reach a full minute. Non-retractable claws and tough pads on their feet closely resemble that of a dog. These features offer better traction to get to those high speeds. A long heavy tail acts as a rudder for making those sharp turns while in pursuit. The Cheetah's long fluid body is set over extremely light bones, this accompanied with large nasal passages, and oversized lungs, liver, heart and adrenals enable rapid physical response. This response is imperative to accommodate the Cheetah's way of hunting. A strong spring-like spine gives added reach to the Cheetah's long legs. A stride is the measured distance between successive imprints of the same paw. With the added reach given by the spine 1 stride can stretch as far as 7-8 meters.