The cheetah is found in the wild primarily in Africa, but in the past its range extended into much of Asia, and a small population survives in Iran, where conservationists are taking steps to protect it. In much of its former range, it was tamed by aristocrats and used to hunt antelopes in much the same way as is still done with members of the greyhound group of dogs. Aside from an estimated fifty cheetahs living in Iran the distribution of the cheetah is now limited to Africa.
The cheetah is a carnivore, eating mostly mammals under 40 kilograms (88 lb), including the Thomson’s gazelle, the Grant’s gazelle, the springbok and the impala. The young of larger mammals such as wildebeests and zebras are taken at times, adults too, when the cats hunt in groups. Guineafowl and hares are also prey. While the other big cats mainly hunt by night, the cheetah is a diurnal hunter. It hunts usually either early in the morning or later in the evening when it is not so hot, but there is still enough light.
The cheetah hunts by vision rather than by scent. Prey is stalked to within 10 metres (33 ft)-30 metres (98 ft), then chased. This is usually over in less than a minute, and if the cheetah fails to make a catch quickly, it will give up. The cheetah has an average hunting success rate of around 50% – half of its chases result in failure.
Running at speeds up to 75 MPH puts a great deal of strain on the cheetah’s body. When sprinting, the cheetah’s body temperature becomes so high that it would be deadly to continue – this is why the cheetah is often seen resting after it has caught its prey. If it is a hard chase, it sometimes needs to rest for half an hour or more. The cheetah kills its prey by tripping it during the chase, then biting it on the underside of the throat to suffocate it, for the cheetah is not strong enough to break the necks of the four-legged prey it mainly hunts. The bite may also puncture a vital artery in the neck. Then the cheetah proceeds to devour its catch as quickly as possible before the kill is taken by stronger predators.
The cheetah cannot roar, unlike other big cats, but does have the following vocalizations: