The Life of a Cheetah

by Aaron Weaver | Jun 1, 2023 | 0 comments

Cheetah running
Cheetah. Photo © Stu Porter/Dreamstime.com.

Carefully Mother Cheetah hid her six cubs in a clump of withered savanna grass so no marauding lion or hyena could find and kill them. Since Mother Cheetah had to hunt every day to keep herself and her cubs alive, she had to leave her cubs and take the risk of getting some of them killed.

As Mother Cheetah left her cubs, she spotted some gazelles about 200 yards away. She slunk slowly toward them, freezing whenever she suspected she was being observed. Her gait accelerated slowly to a trot. When she came close enough to the gazelles, she sprang out of concealment, sucked in huge quantities of air, and coiled her supple spine. Then she let loose, her spine uncoiling like a spring, catapulting her forward. Her lightweight rear legs propelled her heavier head and chest, containing a powerful heart and lungs. The flexing and extending of her back helped add to her leap. Her tail streamed out behind, acting as a rudder. When the gazelle she was chasing made a turn, Mother Cheetah’s tail pointed toward the inside of the turn, helping to balance her.

After a chase of about 200 yards, she pinned the terrorized gazelle to the ground. She pinched the gazelle’s windpipe shut with her jaws to kill it. Mother Cheetah killed this way because she does not have long fangs to sear the spinal cord like most species of cats.

Now that the gazelle was dead, Mother Cheetah crouched over her kill, getting her breath. She could get her breath quickly because her skull was specially shaped to let in more oxygen.

She was also trying to hide the carcass from vultures which would come sliding from the sky. This in turn might bring jackals or hyenas. She didn’t want to fight them because she might get a nip in the haunches. This would result in making the next chase a painful affair. Any speed under 60 or 70 miles (95-110 km) per hour might mean a futile chase.

Now Mother Cheetah began devouring the gazelle. She did not try to drag the gazelle around because she was too slender, barely weighing 120 pounds (54 kg). When she almost had her fill, she lifted her head to look for jackals or hyenas. She hardly had to move her head because her eyes are set high on her head so she can hide in the grass and watch her prey while keeping her head hidden.

After Mother Cheetah had her fill, she quickly went to where her cubs were hiding. She purred loudly as she groomed and fed them.

The following days were almost the same. Every day Mother Cheetah had to leave the cubs to look for food. One day it was not the same when Mother Cheetah returned. There were only three cubs there. A lion had raided the nest, all the cubs had scattered, and the lion had killed one. Two others were lost.

Now the cubs were four weeks old, soon old enough to follow Mother Cheetah when she went to hunt.

Two weeks later found Mother Cheetah and her cubs out hunting. The cubs’ smoky gray fur on their spines helped to keep them safe. It made them look more like an aggressive honey badger and perhaps added to their camouflage. Every moment the cheetah can trick predators into thinking it is something else, the chance of escape increases. This gray mantle disappears when the cubs get older.

Suddenly Mother Cheetah stopped short. A herd of gazelle were grazing a few hundred yards away. The cubs shrank into the grass while Mother Cheetah tried to kill a gazelle. The dog-like pads on her feet gave her more traction. Her claws were dull like a dog’s, and she could not retract them like other cats can. These added to her traction.

Mother Cheetah could not catch the gazelle as it veered to one side, then the other. Since Mother Cheetah could not maintain her speed long, the terror-crazed gazelle escaped.

That same day when Mother Cheetah and her cubs were hunting, they came upon her kill from the day before. Even though no other animal had touched it, Mother Cheetah and her cubs did not eat it because they did not prefer rotting meat. Unless she was starving, she would not return to a previous kill.

Now Mother Cheetah spied some gazelles nearby. She repeated the process of killing one. She succeeded. Almost before the gazelle had stopped moving, Mother Cheetah was starting to eat it. If she did not bolt it right away, another animal might chase her away. Mother Cheetah and her cubs had barely started to eat when a hyena came charging through the grass. The cubs and their mother scattered in whatever direction they had been facing. They had been spread around the gazelle. Now, as each cub ran the opposite way it was facing, they spread out in a star-like fashion.

Half an hour later found Mother Cheetah in search of more prey, with only two cubs following.

mother cheetah and five cubs
Mother cheetah and cubs. Photo © Andrey Gudkov/Dreamstime.com

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