Mike Unwin
United Kingdom GB
Aug 27, 2014 August 27, 2014

Mike is an award winning wildlife writer, editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.

Category: African Wildlife

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

Every schoolchild knows that this greyhound of the cat family is the fastest land animal on the planet – reaching speeds of 120km/h. And no wonder, just look at a cheetah's lithe physique! But this cat also has many other remarkable qualities.

5 Fascinating Facts

What's so special about this cool cat? Let's have a look:

  1. Unlike other large cats, the cheetah’s claws are only semi-retractable. They function more as running spikes, to give the animal traction during high-speed chases, rather than as killing weapons.
  2. A cheetah’s short nose and broad nostrils allow it to breathe while holding the killing bite on its prey’s throat. And they maximize its oxygen intake during and after the exertion of a high-speed chase.
  3. A rare variant of the cheetah, with larger, blotchy spots, was once thought to be a separate species and known as the King cheetah (Acinonyx rex). This coat pattern is simply a mutation from a single recessive gene.
  4. The cheetah is not a big cat of the genus Panthera, like the lion or leopard, but belongs in its own genus Acinonyx. Unlike true big cats, it lacks the vocal structure to produce a roar, and purrs when inhaling rather than – as with true big cats – exhaling.
  5. Cheetahs were kept and trained for hunting during many of the great ancient empires of the Middle East and Asia, including the Egyptians and Persians. Akbar the Great of the Mughal Empire (1556–1605) is reputed to have kept as many as 1,000.

Are you a "cat" lover?

If you have an affinity for cats, you will find the beautiful wildlife terrain of Africa simply mesmerizing.  Some of our big cat encounters have been very intense... and always exciting. These exquisite wild animals are well worth seeing...up close (but not too close!). Follow SafariBookings on Instagram, where you will see some stunning wildlife photography. See you there...