The Cheetah is one of the best known of the large cats and is also the world's fastest land animal. It is able to reach a top speed of between 112 and 120 km/h (70 and 75 mph), although they are only able to maintain this in short bursts otherwise they would quickly overheat!

During their high speed sprints they can cover distances up to 460 m (1,500 ft), and have the ability to accelerate from 0 to 103 km/h (64 mph) in three seconds. That's faster than most super cars! It is amazing statistic like these that confirm the cheetah's status as the world's fastest land animal.

On the open savannas of Iran and parts of Africa, cheetahs are superb examples of specialization - the evolutionary adaptation to very specific environmental conditions. In this case, the specialization is for speed. Going after impalas, gazelles and small wildebeests, the cheetah is a blur, and the chase is short-lived, typically lasting about 30 seconds. Cheetah moms spend a lot of time teaching their cubs to chase, sometimes dragging live animals back to the den so the cubs can practice the chase-and-catch process.

When a cheetah overtakes its prey, it knocks it down and takes it out with a bite to the neck. It then eats as quickly as possible. If a lion comes along, the cheetah will abandon its catch - it can't fight off a lion, and chances are, the cheetah will lose its life along with its prey if it doesn't get out of there fast enough.

The future

One of the sad facts about the cheetah that as a species they have extremely low genetic variability. So low is this variability that all individual species are so closely related that are as similar as they would be if they were genetically related brothers and sisters.

This is highlighted with skin grafting as there is no rejection of donor skin between unrelated cheetahs. It is believed that as a species, cheetahs went through a prolonged period of inbreeding following a genetic bottleneck during the last ice age. This inbreeding issue is further compromised by low sperm counts in the males.

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