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Cheetah's Hunting Habits

You might say that cheetahs invented fast food. They are perfectly adapted for hunting in the grasslands and arid regions of Africa . Being so quick they are able to capture prey that no other animals are able to catch. Cheetahs are sprinters, not long-distance runners. They are easily winded after their incredible bursts of speed. Researchers have even found that a cheetah's temperature can instantly rise up to 105 degrees during a chase. This requires them to rest after each hunt.

But speed is not the only adaptation they require to be successful hunters. Stealth plays just as important a role. Since cheetahs are only able to chase their prey a few hundred yards at such fast speeds, they must get very close to their meal before beginning their chase. They have to employ the tricks of hunters everywhere - moving low in the grass, approaching from down-wind, and sometimes using small rises in the land to disguise their approach. This is very tricky business since the hoofed animals cheetahs hunt live in herds which are on constant watch for any approaching danger. So cheetahs need to use camouflage AND speed to catch their prey.

You might think that occupying this specialized niche guarantees all cheetahs a meal. But killing prey and keeping it are two different issues. Scientists who have studied the behavior of predators in Southern Africa have documented a hierarchy among meat eaters that works to the cheetahs' disadvantage. Due to their size and build, cheetahs are submissive and shy animals that are easily chased from their kill. So, after a huge, energy-depleting burst of speed and a successful kill that only happens one out of every ten tries, the meal that awaits them on the African plains can be grabbed right out from under their noses by competing predators such as lions, leopards, spotted hyenas, brown hyenas, and wild dogs. Even jackals can benefit once hyenas have chased off the cheetah.

Importance of Predators

The issue facing wildlife everywhere is: Can people learn to live successfully with nature? Rare are the places, as in Namibia in Southwest Africa , where cattle and sheep ranchers are experimenting with techniques that will keep the predators hunting wild prey and not their livestock.

This is all about competition. Throughout human history predators have been wiped out in a wholesale manner from most of the regions where people live. Since the domestication of animals thousands of years ago, predators have been perceived as being in direct competition with the human economy. For instance, Ohio used to be home to wolves, bears and mountain lions just three centuries ago. Today most of those species have been killed off east of the Rocky Mountains ; but their numbers were great in our eastern forests not that long ago. Where do you think the Penn State Nittany Lion came from? In areas that still remain relatively wild, such as the plains of Africa , it is our responsibility to help protect large predators.

Cheetahs are relatively small cats that weigh between 85 and 140 pounds. With their slim build that is designed for speed, they do not have size on their side when it comes to protecting their kill from other predators. As a result, ranchers can also keep a wary cheetah away from their herd with the use of guard dogs, and even donkeys, which are capable of scaring away the largest of cheetahs.

The King Cheetah, although quite different in coat pattern, is the same species as the regular cheetah. Color variations are common in many animals, but cheetahs are genetically very similar; except for this rare variant, they look almost identical. Cheetahs have semi-retractable claws, their very own track shoes. This allows them to use the ground to catch their prey. A cheetah goes from 0 to 60 and back to 0 in a matter of seconds. At two points in this cat's amazing stride, none of its feet are even touching the ground.

Today the only cat species that lives in the Midwest is the bobcat, a small, elusive feline that preys on animals up to the size of a rabbit. Though rarely seen, even these small predators can be persecuted by poachers. However, we need to protect bobcats and insure their survival if we hope to be effective role models for conservation in other countries. Imagine how the people living in the Sunderban region of northern India who live in close proximity to 400 pound Bengal tigers feel when they hear we can't even save room for 30-pound bobcats! Clearly, we need to make room for predators as well.

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