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Total length:180-220cm; tail 60-80cm
Shoulder height: 80cm
Identification pointers: Large size; slender, greyhound-like build; long spotted white-tipped tail, black-ringed towards tip; spotted coat- single, black spots, rounded face with black line from inner corner of eye to corner of mouth ('tear-mark'). Leopards have heavier build, its spots form rosettes, it has no black lines on face and it usually frequents different habitats. Serval much smaller and has disproportionately short tail.
The cheetah, sometimes referred to as "greyhound of cats", is probably the most elegant member of the cat family. It is tall and slender, with long legs and a short muzzle with a rounded head. The body colour is off-white to pale fawn and is liberally dotted with black, rounded, sports more or less uniform in size. A clear black line (the "tear mark") runs from the inner corner of each eye to the corner of the mouth. Numerous small black spots are present on the forehead and top of the head. The tips of the ears are white. The long tail is blacked-ringed with a white tip. A short erectile crest is situated on the back and sides. The Cheetah is the only cat that does not have fully retractile claws and the impressions of the claws can be seen in their tracks. The well-publicized "King Cheetah" is merely an aberrant colour form, albeit an attractive one.
Open savanna and light woodland, but also hilly country on occasion. The availability of drinking water is not essential. Cheetahs are widely but sparsely distributed throughout Botswana.
The Cheetah is normally seen singly, in pairs or small family parties consisting of female and cubs. It is principally diurnal and tends to hunt in the cooler hours. Adult males move singly or in bachelor groups and females establish territories from which they will drive other females. Males are apparently not territorial and may move over areas held by several females. Favoured lying-up spots are usually raised above the surrounding areas and are urine-marked by both males and females. When hunting, cheetah stalks to within a short distance of their intended prey and then sprint in for the kill. Although they have top speed of more than 100km per hour, this can only be sustained for a few hundred metres.
Normally, cheetah hunts medium-sized mammals up to a mass of about 60kg, although if two or more cheetahs hunt together, large prey may be overpowered. Antelope are the principal prey items. It also catches birds up to the size of Ostrich.
A cheetah has a long-drawn courtship. The litters of 1-5(usually 3) young may be born at any time of the year. The cubs are blind and helpless and weigh between 250g and 300g at birth. For the first weeks they are hidden in dense plant cover, thereafter following the mother.
Cheetahs used to be tamed and used for hunting, particularly in Asia. Akbar the Great was said to have kept a "stable" of 1,000 Cheetahs.