Humans have kept cheetahs in captivity for around 5 000 years and documented the cats sprinting faster than 60 mph. However we’re only now understanding the real athleticism of the world’s quickest sprinter in its natural environment.

The cheetah is one of the world’s most-recognisable cats, known particularly its speed. Cheetahs’ sprints have been clocked in at a maximum of 114 km (71 miles) per hour, and they regularly reach velocities of 80–100 km per hour while chasing after prey. Almost all the cheetahs staying in the wild live in Africa.

Cheetahs are covered nearly entirely with small black spots on a background of pale yellow and have a white underbelly. Their faces are distinguished by significant black lines which curve from the inner corner of each of their eyes to the outer corners of the mouth, almost like a well-worn path of inky tears.

Cheetahs have a long, slim body measuring 1.2 metres (4 feet), with a long tail (65–85 cm [2–3 feet]) that usually ends in a white tuft. These beautiful animals are about 75 cm tall at the shoulder. Their weight ranges from 34 to 54 kg (75 to 119 pounds), males being slightly larger than females.

The cheetah’s unique body structure – flexible spine, semi-retractable claws, long legs and tail – allow it to achieve the unbelievable top speed of 110 km/hr (70 mph). The cheetah’s body is narrow and lightweight with long slender limbs. Specialised muscles allow for a greater swing to the limbs increasing acceleration.

Cheetahs Are Built For Speed

The cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world as well as Africa’s most endangered big cat. Uniquely adapted for speed, the cheetah can reach speeds greater than 110 kilometres per hour in just over three seconds. At top speed, the cheetah’s stride is seven metres long.

Cheetahs’ foot pads are hard and less rounded as opposed the other cats. The pads function like tyre treads providing them with boosted traction in fast, sharp turns. The short blunt claws, which are considered as semi-retractable, are closer to that of a dog as opposed to other cats. The claws work like the cleats of a track shoe to grip the ground for traction when running to assist with increasing speed.

Status And Taxonomy

The cheetah has lived with humans since at least 3000 BCE, when the Sumerians showed a leashed cheetah that had a hood on its head on an official seal. Throughout this period in Egypt, the cheetah was respected as a symbol of royalty in the form of the cat goddess Mafdet.

Cheetahs were kept as pets by many celebrated historical figures, such as Genghis Khan, Charlemagne as well as Akbar the Great of India (who kept more than 9 000 in his stable). These cats were also utilised for sport, and you may even have found similar wagering activities for them like the live betting in NZ we enjoy today.

Trained and tame, these animals were typically hooded and carried on horseback or in a cart, then dehooded and released near their quarry. Despite the large numbers of cheetahs who were kept in captivity by royalty during the 14th–16th centuries, almost all were captured from the wild.