Cheetahs in a Hot Spot
Introduction

The cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal.

The cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal. As the world’s fastest land animal, cheetahs are the odds-on favorite in almost any footrace. After all, they can accelerate to freeway speeds in just a step or two. But in the dry scrublands of southern Africa, the fast felines are falling behind in the most important contest they’ve ever entered: the race for survival.

Luckily, as NATURE’s Cheetahs in a Hot Spot shows, people are stepping in to make sure that these exceptional cats survive to reach the finish line. And along the way, cheetah lovers are coming to understand these athletic sprinters better than ever before.

Cheetahs in a Hot Spot takes viewers to Namibia, one of the world’s richest cheetah habitats, for a remarkable look at these graceful hunters. It follows six gangly young cheetahs as they come of age in the desert wilderness of Etosha National Park, where they learn the essential hunting and social skills that will enable them to rear families of their own. But the documentary also captures the sobering challenges that other cheetahs face on nearby livestock ranches, where farmers routinely trap and kill the cats to reduce attacks on their herds. And the NATURE special profiles the courageous work of cheetah rescuer Lise Hanssen, who is creating alternatives to the deadly rivalry between rancher and predator.

While best known as a fleet runner able to sprint short distances at up to 60 miles per hour, it was the cheetah’s elegant spotted coat that caught the eye of ancient civilizations. Indeed, “cheetah” means “spotted one” in the Hindi language. But while many people think of cheetahs as being close relatives of the other bigs cats, such as lions and tigers, they are actually quite different.

Cheetahs evolved earlier than other large cats.

One difference is that cheetahs evolved much earlier than other large cats, arising from a cat-like mammal that lived about 4 million years ago. As a result, their bodies are different from lions, tigers, and other great cats in many ways. Cheetah claws, for instance, don’t retract like a house cat’s, in part because the cheetah needs the extra traction during high-speed sprints. Similarly, cheetahs don’t growl. They hiss or give a bird-like chirp instead, because they lack the vocal anatomy to roar.

Most importantly, cheetah bodies are uniquely built for speed. Their small heads offer little wind resistance, while their exceptionally long legs allow them to take huge strides. During sprints, the cheetah spine acts like a giant spring, storing energy that can be released in explosive surges. And the cheetah’s enlarged heart, lungs, and liver help deliver bursts of oxygen and energy, while specially ridged foot pads help provide traction, much like a car’s tire. Such adaptations “make cheetahs the elite race cars of the animal world,” says Don Person, a Dutch biologist who has studied cheetahs in East Africa. “They are speed demons.”

Cheetahs also have a distinct family life. Mothers typically have from one to six cubs, which are born blind and toothless. By five weeks old, however, their eyes are open and the young cats have developed a taste for fresh meat. But the cubs won’t start hunting on their own until they are nearly two years old, when their mother leaves them. Once on their own, brothers and sisters will go their separate ways. Females live relatively solitary lives, seeking out territories in which they raise their own families. Males, in contrast, sometimes hang together, with brothers forging alliances for hunting and attracting mates. “Working together, male groups can bring down bigger prey and increase the odds of having an offspring that carries on their line,” notes Person. “In contrast, females alone carry the burden of raising and feeding their young.”

Not surprisingly, a cheetah’s life in the fast lane is relatively short. Most wild cheetahs live less than 10 years, and many cubs never make it to adulthood, killed by disease, starvation, or attack by lions and hyenas. In captivity, however, they often reach a dozen years old or more. “It’s not an easy life,” says Person. “A foot injury that might just slow a human runner,” for instance, “might be the beginning of the end for a cheetah. They literally depend on their legs for survival.”

To order a copy of Cheetahs in a Hot Spot, please visit the NATURE Shop.
Online content for Cheetahs in a Hot Spot was originally posted February 2000.

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  • jan

    I recently saw a wonderful pbs program on cheetahs about little Toki and his sister. Wanted to check your website for an update as suggested.
    Any thoughts??
    Thankyou – your programming is appreciated….
    Sincerely,
    Jan Mallory

  • Kassidy

    I luv cheetahs they are such fasenating creatures!!

  • CRYSTAL

    CHEETAHS ARE SO PRETTY N SMART
    I LOVE CHEETAHS CUZ THEY RUN FAST
    N I LOVE RUNNING MA SELF

  • priyank

    There sould be more photos

  • amber

    cheetahs are beautiful animals.

  • amber

    I absuloutly love cheetahs and other big and small cats.

  • gabby

    i love dem cheetahs:) eva since i was a little girl they were my favorite animal….and its sad how they are endangered cuz 1 day i want my kids 2 see how beautiful creatures these animals are!!!!!

  • pink mama

    you guys are wrong there so dark n’ dusty eww

  • Kassidy

    I am doing a report, how many people who be upset and mad if cheetahs become extinct??

  • Laura

    great article! i love the pictures of cheetahs! they’re so cute!

  • Tahshelle

    Those cheetahs are HOT! they are so adorable.

  • Chris barks

    I think that the cheetah is a cool cat.

  • Neo Barks

    Ilove the cheetah cubs they are so cute and cdely

  • regan

    they are so beautiful and fast and cool they are my favoritest animal EVER!!!

  • gage

    they are the coolest animal ever they are buitiful

  • fernando

    OMG they are so hot……

  • Harry

    those cheetahs are so cute with their little spots all over!!!!

  • nun

    omg l so lllllllllooooooooovvvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeee them

  • isabella glazer

    I just love them so much. I want one so bad.

  • brittany

    I Love cheetahs they r so cute and they live in a good wilderness and they r so cuttley i think thank u.

  • nathan e

    cheetahs are the best in the world i say but all cats are cool.

  • Sophia

    That’s awsome!!:} Istuded about it.!

  • carlos

    i really love cheetahs because that’s my favorite big cat cheetahs rock

  • isabella glazer

    ILOVE LOVE LOVE THE THEM. CHEETAH HATERS ARE SO MAEAN TO THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • mira

    I love cheetahs just from this article.

  • cheetah girl!!!

    I LOVE CHEETAHS SO MUCH !!!!!!!!!!!THERE SO SO COOO AND CUTE I LOVE THEM EVER SINCE I WAS BORN !!!!!!!! ICHEETAH HATERS I WANT TO KILL THEM !!!!! thank you for making this article

  • cheetah girl

    ooops sorry about that typo in my first comment i meant to say I LOVE CHEETAHS SO MUCH MORE THAN THE WORLD !!!! THERE SO COOL SO FAST SO CUTE AND SO STRONG I LOVED THEM SINCE I WAS BORN I WISH I WAS A CHEETAH THX FOR MAKING THIS ARTICLE

  • cheetah lover

    CHEETAH ARE SO CUTE!!!!!!!!! IVE LOVED CHEETAHS EVER SCINCE I WAS BORN!!!!!!THEY ARE CUTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • jamee

    what are cheetahenamy.

  • mikala swords

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  • isabella glaezr

    I just did a project a cheetahs,but I had the info all mixed up. :) :) :)

  • nana

    the king cheetah is so cute it look like coyote

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    I LOVE CHEETAHS. THEY ARE SO COOL

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    Cheetahs are weird ugly and dangerous! they could kill you

  • cheetah girl

    people don`t now much about cheetahs and this is agreat artical to show them.also try to save these cheetas,their cute and AMAZING .I LOVE CHEETAS

  • cheetah girl 97

    cheetahs are ssssoooo cute i wish i was 1

  • samirah

    whay are cheetahs carnivors

  • Cheetah Boy

    I like them because they are very agile and skilled hunters. If we could domesticate them we could have them for pets that would be rad!

  • amber

    i just love cheetahs cuase they r so fast like myself .cheetahs r my favorite animals 2.i know i am the gigest cheetah fan

  • bookman

    this website is good but where is the date that posted that time?im doing a research on this.

  • megan cary

    i love cheetahs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! they r so cool!!!!!!

  • cheetah lover

    cheetahs are sooo cool i love them i wunt to be one of them i wish! and cats i love them too tanks for doing this article it made my day :)

  • diljot atwal

    i thought lions and tigers were the worlds fastest animal put since i did my sience project about a cheetah then i found out that the cheetah is the worlds fastest animal

  • jesse hedrick jr

    i love cheetahs caus they run fast and so do i i like to run

  • karla

    i wish i had one cheetah. it would be SO COOL. THANK YOU:Karla

  • Kitty

    I absoulutely love cheetahs and every cat of the feline family! I really really care for the ones that are endangered because I love them so much
    -Kitty-

  • Hahay

    I love cheetahs! It’s soooooo sad they are being killed! I started a club to try and save the cheetah and other animals.

  • LeBron James

    chetah is the cutests thing evre

  • johnsmith

    very intresting to read.. the post has detailed descriptions of the great cat.. i have seen them once or twice in the wild… they are very cute.. i hope it has safe future and they don get extinct… they are reallly pride to cat family

  • ari

    cheetah are my favorite animals in the whole wide world no body loves cheetahs more than me I LOVE CHEETAHS.

  • cheetahlover254

    cheetahs are amazing not just because they run fast, they are beautiful animals! my favorite color is tan and im the fastest in my school iwished my name was cheetah but my nickname is! well just to let you know, im the biggest cheetah lover on earth i live in hollywood and im 19. nobody loves cheetahs than me the worldwide cheetah lover. my aunt helps cheetahs my mom is rich. im an actress, and a model but lots of cheetah jobs too! i have adopted 2 cheetah cubs and are now adults. i stared at the cheetah pictures for hours an of course never stop loving them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! my whole family love cheetahs too! written by THE WORLDS BIGGEST CHEETAH LOVEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IIIIIII LOVEEE CHEETAHSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!! THEY ROCK

  • amandasoo

    i really can not belive people can kill such beautiful animals like the cheetah

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    cheetahs are my favorite animal

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    SAVE THE CHEETAHS! SAVE THE CHEETAHS!

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    Cheetahs are my favorite animal they are so AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I I LOVE CHEETAHS MORE THAN ANYONE, I’M THE FASTEST KID IN MY GRADE AND THEY CALL ME CHEETAH GUY… CHEETAHS ARE THE BEST, I LOVE THEM MORE THAN ANYONE OR ANYTHING. I KNOW EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT CHEETAHS. THEY ARE AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Cheetahs are my favorite animal they are so AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I I LOVE CHEETAHS MORE THAN ANYONE, I’M THE FASTEST KID IN MY GRADE AND THEY CALL ME CHEETAH GUY… CHEETAHS ARE THE BEST, I LOVE THEM MORE THAN ANYONE OR ANYTHING. I KNOW EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT CHEETAHS. I EVEN DO RANDOM REPORTS ON CHEETAHS FOR NO REASON. THEY ARE AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE CHEETAHS!!!!:)

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  • Morgan F.

    Look at how endangered cheetahs are. It is all becuase of stupid humans. I don’t want to be a human. Has anyone watched Broken Tail – A Tigers Last Journey? There is a part where it shows so many tigers being shot for sport. Ticks me off. :(

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    Cheetahs are pretty nice animals. You should see how fast they can run almost up to 60 milles

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    I dont why they are endangered they are so cute! xD

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  • Alex Frederick

    Was lucky enough to see a cheetah on safari in Africa, they truly are majestic creatures!

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