Thursday, August 14, 2014

East African Cheetah

The cheetah is the fastest land animal, reaching speeds up to 75 mph and it can accelerate to 62 mph in three seconds. Adaptations that allow the cheetah to run so fast include a thin body, large nostrils that allow the intake of more oxygen, a larger heart and lungs that increase oxygen circulation, semi-retractable claws that provide extra grip when going fast, and a long tail that allows rudder-like steering for sharp turns.
The first cheetah was saw was in Masai Mara as we first drove in. It was stalking a young Thomson's gazelle as other animals lined up to watch it, in what looked like a protection mode. I think the zebras, topi and waterbucks realized they were safe. Our vehicles pulled up right alongside the stalking cheetah. We've read that the aggressive safari vehicles are partly responsible for hurting the cheetah's survival chances, interfering with them during their hunts. 
The cheetah is tan with round black spots, except on its white underside. The spots merge toward the end of the tail to form four to six dark rings followed by a white tuft at the very end. Black tear marks run from the corner of the eyes to the mouth which reduces the glare of sunlight in its eyes. 
Note the zebras in the background. If this was a lion, those zebras would be gone. Photo by Judy.
A closer view of this beautiful animal.  Photo by Mark Edwards.
These zebras are moving as the cheetah approaches. Photo by John Mirau.
Three topi stand their ground while the zebras look ready to flee.
Photo by John Mirau.

Lots of pictures of the same thing, but this was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Photo by Mark Edwards. 
These defassa waterbuck were lined up looking at the cheetah.
A cheetah with three elephants in the background. Photo by Michael Lewin.
The cheetah is classified as a vulnerable species and there are six subspecies. We saw the East African cheetah, found in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Somalia. I was interested to learn that one subspecies, the Asiatic cheetah, is still found in Iran (about 50 survive). It used to be found in Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia and Oman, but is now extinct in those countries. 
Photo by Michael Lewin.
Photo by Steven Shuel.
Photo by Steven Shuel.
Photo by Steven Shuel.
It usually eats smaller mammals, such as Thomson's gazelle (its preferred food in East Africa), Grant's gazelle, and impala. It will occasionally take down young wildebeests and zebras and we saw one in Masai Mara feasting on a young defassa waterbuck while the mother waterbuck stood watching anxiously about 30 yards away. It hunts during the day, often early in the morning or in the evening when there is light, but it is not as hot. It usually stalks to within 100 feet, then chases the animal down at high speed. It trips the animal during the chase, then bites the underside of the throat to suffocate it. It eats quickly to avoid losing it to stronger predators. When we watched the cheetah eating the waterbuck, a hyena came up and watched from a distance. It did not make a move on the kill while we watched, but cheetahs will usually surrender a kill without a fight, even to a hyena, rather than risk injury.  
This cheetah is feasting on a young defassa waterbuck.
Blood on its mouth and nose is evidence of the meal. Photo by Mark Edwards. 
Five or six safari vehicles looked on as the cheetah was eating. The mother waterbuck looked on as her young one was consumed. 
While this drama was going on, a spotted hyena crept up, looking like it wanted to get in on the action. We left before anything happened. Photo by Steven Shuel.
We saw at least three cheetahs in Masai Mara. Some other groups saw at least one cheetah in Serengeti NP. I love the cheetah and was thrilled that we got some great looks at them. 
Great photo by Judy. Note the zebras in the background. 


  1. It's interesting to read there are so many subspecies of many of these animals. I knew about giraffes, but didn't know cheetahs have a number of subspecies, too.

  2. A truly magnificent animal. The cheetah's body always looks tensed, ready for take-off. I loved the high rear haunches and powerful shoulders.

  3. Very cool. We got to see the Cheetah run last Saturday at the Wild Animal Park, boy are they fast!