September 30, 2009
The National Zoo houses the world’s fastest land mammal, the cheetah. In tribute to this swift-moving animal, a panel of distinguished experts including Laurie Marker, founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund; Adrienne Crosier, research biologist at the Zoo; Craig Saffoe, biologist at the Zoo; and Carlos Sanchez, veterinarian at the Zoo will talk about the cheetah’s impending extinction tonight at 7 PM.
Once widespread across the savannahs of Africa, into the Middle East and India, the cheetah has suffered dramatic declines over the last century, mostly due to hunting. Cheetahs are now found only in Africa, except for a small population in the Yazd Province of Iran. Recently, their populations have declined by 85 percent, with an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 surviving in the wild. Due to this, the cheetah is now listed as “vulnerable” by the World Conservation Union.
Without action and cooperation among conservation groups, the cheetah’s future is doomed. Learn more about the struggle to stabilize populations in the wild. But go armed with a few facts about cheetahs, in case you want to ask the experts a question.
- Cheetahs are adapted for brief but intense bursts of speed and can reach 45 miles per hour within 2.5 seconds.
- Their top speed is 64 miles per hour.
- The name cheetah comes from an Indian word meaning “spotted one.”
- The young cub has a long gray-blue coat and a black underbelly that rapidly lightens and becomes spotted.
- Early peoples trained cheetahs for hunting, and many civilizations depicted them in their art and in written records.
- Cheetahs were so popular that Akbar the Great of India was said to have kept a stable of about 1,000.
- Cheetahs do not roar like lions, but they purr, hiss, whine and growl. They also make a variety of contact calls; the most common is a birdlike chirping sound.
- Female cheetahs are solitary except when attracting a mate or when raising cubs. Males sometimes live in small groups called coalitions, which are usually made up of two to four brothers.
- In zoos, cheetahs may live up to 17 years; in the wild, they may live eight to ten years.
- In the wild, Cheetahs primarily eat hoofed mammals including gazelles and young wildebeest. They will also eat smaller game such as hares, warthogs, and birds.
- The Zoo’s cheetahs eat ground horse meat and sometimes beef, rabbits, and chicks.
(Facts provided by African Wildlife Foundation).
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