As the fastest land mammal on the planet, cheetahs can make hunting look easy. While these cats are impressive runners, though, they lack the strength of other African predators like lions and hyenas. This means that they are often both hunted and taken advantage of, and don't always get to enjoy the food that they work so hard to hunt and kill.
Frequency of Success
Cheetahs are champion sprinters, but speed isn't everything. After stalking their prey, they give chase when it tries to escape, and can reach speeds up to about 70 mph. They're equipped with bigger-than-average hearts and lungs, as well as big nostrils and a long tail for steering at high speeds. Despite all this, they can't sustain the chase forever, and tire out. An exhausted cheetah needs ample time to rest before he hunts again, and generally, 50 percent of their prey escapes.
Once a cheetah catches his prey, he's generally rather exhausted. The chase has taken his toll, and he can't eat until he's recovered -- it may take between 20 and 30 minutes or so before he's finally caught his breath and can chow down. Ideally, he and his prey haven't attracted the attention of any competition, like hyenas, as they won't hesitate to take his food from him. Cheetahs aren't strong enough to defend themselves in a fight like that, so if they sense that they and their prey are being encroached upon, they'll give up and abandon their meal before ever enjoying it.
These animals are dedicated hunters that go after prey relatively often. They prefer to quietly stalk prey, hiding in the tall grass or behind trees, slowly moving in closer until their prey sees them. Because they don't have particularly useful night vision, cheetahs do their hunting while the sun is out -- usually in the morning and evening, when they're less likely to have a hard-earned meal stolen from under their noses.
Patrolling and Feeding
Cheetahs hunt frequently, but the rest of the time, they patrol the area in which they live. Because cheetahs aren't typically as strong as the animals that prey on them, males live in small groups to better defend themselves. They live in a roughly defined territory, throughout which they spray urine as a warning to intruders. As particularly territorial animals, they spend most of their waking hours either patrolling, hunting or avoiding the harsh midday sun by lounging in a shaded area.
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Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.