One of the rarest animals in the world, and also the fastest land animal, the king cheetah is a fascinating African cat. With power, prowess, and striking beauty, they roam the African plains.
When the pace of this animal can only be compared to that of a race car, it makes for one impressive feat. This post will take a closer look at this Bugatti of the animal kingdom.
How fast can a king cheetah really run? And are they faster than their cousins the African cheetah? Let’s find out…
The scientific name for all cheetahs is Acinonyx jubatus and these big cats are native to Africa as well as some parts of Iran. Most cheetahs today are found in Africa. Both the king and African cheetahs belong to this scientific family and share many characteristics.
King cheetahs, however, are even more rare and hard to come by than their cousins. They are easily spotted by their difference in appearance.
What is the Difference Between a Cheetah and a King Cheetah?
There has been confusion around whether king cheetahs and regular cheetahs are the same animals. This began when a man with a very cool name, Reginald Innes Pocock, first spotted the king cheetah in Africa around 1927.
He claimed it was a different species to the typical cheetah. However, he later retracted this claim. The confusion arose because king cheetahs differ slightly in appearance to normal cheetahs.
Here’s more about that…
Differences in Appearances
It is common knowledge that a cheetah has spotty fur.
The king cheetah, however, has splotches rather than well-defined spots and these merge into several (usually 4) long, black stripes. These stripes run down their backs all the way to their tails.
Their funky fur pattern is caused by a single recessive gene (allele) in both parents. This mutation results in them having slightly different patterning as well as fur that is softer and longer than that of common cheetahs.
This recessive gene makes it very hard for king cheetahs to reproduce more of their own. In other words, the basic math is that it takes two king cheetahs to make a king cheetah cub.
And since they are essentially the same species as African cheetahs, they can mate with one another. It simply means the distinctive striped fur would be bred out. Which would be quite a loss, considering how grand it looks!
How Fast Can a King Cheetah Run?
A king cheetah can reach speeds of up to 120kmp/h (75mph) which is equivalent to a car on a freeway.
Over the years, cheetahs have evolved to become well-adapted for sprinting. Their chases are usually between 200 and 300 meters. They take about 3.5 strides a second and 60 – 150 breaths per minute.
They’re the only big cats that can actually turn in mid-air while sprinting – now these are impressive creatures by anyone’s standards.
Built For Speed
When it comes to their lightning speeds, it’s no surprise that they are very well-designed machines for this task. So what does a cheetah look like and do these features help them with sprinting?
They have long legs and spines which increases the distance of their strides at these top speeds. These big cats also have nifty paw pads to prevent any slipping and their claws remain exposed – they never retract.
This combination makes for an excellent grip while they’re in action. A surprising running aid is their really long tails – around 65-85 cm or 2-3 feet! It helps them with their balance and steering – kind of like the rudder of a boat.
Internally they are made to be sprinters. Their organs and their air passages are large to allow for all the high-intensity exertion.
More Fun Facts About Cheetahs
While their speed is impressive, there’s a lot more about these big cats that’s fascinating to learn about.
Cheetah Hunting Behaviour
Both species have the well-known black lines running from the eye corners down to the outside edges of the mouth. Kind of resembling inky tears. These markings help to reflect the sun while they’re hunting. Unlike other carnivores, the cheetah is known to hunt during the day.
They also eat their prey immediately to avoid losing it to competitors like lions and hyenas. Whether they are stalking their prey or hiding from a predator, their 2,000-ish spots help them to camouflage in their tan-coloured habitat.
What is a Cheetah’s Average Weight?
These lean, running machines weigh in at around 34 – 54 kilograms (75 to 119 pounds) – with the males being slightly larger than females.
A cheetah’s light weight and build makes for ideal agility and light-footedness.
Where Do Cheetahs Live?
Cheetahs used to be widely spread across both Asia and Africa. These days they mostly inhabit the dry grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa. Most are found in the reserves and parks of the area.
Are Cheetahs Endangered?
These rare animals are considered vulnerable by the World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Animals.
How Many King Cheetahs Are Left in the World?
There are around 50 king cheetah in captivity. And for a more frightening figure, there are estimated to be less than 10 kings living in the wild. This makes them one of the world’s endangered species.
Due to their scarcity, there are many organizations and even game reserves that are passionate about the conservation of these special animals. Supporting bush camps like Sable Alley would have a meaningful impact on conservation. This is because visiting this camp and others like it, provides support to various wildlife and conservation programs.
The De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre in South Africa was the first to breed the rare king cheetah in captivity. They had a valuable hand in wildlife preservation of this endangered species. This made them forerunners in proving that the king cheetah was in fact not a separate species to the African cheetah.
It showed that other than the variation of coat pattern and colouring, they are in fact genetically identical.
Final Words on the Speedy King Cheetah
Don’t let the King cheetahs stripes fool you – on the inside, they’re no different to the common cheetah that roams the grasslands of Africa. Their identical speeds are just another demonstration of how they are the same species – and a very impressive one at that.
If you are wanting to try your luck with spotting one of these rare king cheetahs, you will only see them around Southern Africa. This is possible but highly unlikely. There were only five reported sightings between when the first king cheetah was reported (1927) and when one was finally photographed in the Kruger National Park (1974).
Much like the Great Migration – an incredible African sighting – so Africa is home to the rare King Cheetah and many other wonders of nature. Cheetahs are truly special animals that we need to be conserving and protecting. But also, admiring. So on your next safari, be sure to look out for them – if you can spot them.