Having evolved over 4 million years ago, cheetahs are by far the oldest surviving breed of big cat. They're well known for being the fastest animal on land, but there's much more to them than that. The cheetah kingdom is fascinating and complex, but sadly these elegant creatures are threatened with extinction.
Cheetahs communicate through an intricate system of noises, including barks, bleats, hisses, chips and growls. Male cheetahs tend to live in small groups of two to three members -- usually brothers. Female cheetahs mostly live alone, except when they have cubs. A female will give birth to between two and four cubs in a secluded location. At first, she'll leave them hidden while she hunts, going for up to 48 hours at a time, but from the age of 6 weeks, her cubs will come with her.
Cheetahs used to be found all over Africa and Asia, but now they're only found in some areas of east, central and southwestern Africa, as well as a small part of Iran. They like to inhabit open plains, as this is the best environment for them to hunt in. They tend to live in bushland, savannas or semi-arid regions.
Cheetahs hunt a range of prey including small antelope, impalas, gazelles, hare and jackals. They hunt during the daytime -- the tear-like markings on their faces are actually an adaptation to minimize glare from the sun -- but prefer early morning or early evening, when it's cooler. As they sprint up to 70 mph to catch their prey, they can require up to 20 minutes of rest before they eat their kill. This gives a window of opportunity for larger predators, such as lions or leopards, to come along and steal their dinner.
The cheetah population has declined massively since the 1900s, from roughly 100,000 to fewer than 13,000. It's hard to get exact figures, but there are thought to be between 9,000 and 12,000 cheetahs remaining across 26 African countries, plus between 100 and 200 living in Iran. The African cheetah population is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as threatened, whereas Asian cheetahs are listed as critically endangered. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has listed them in appendix I, making it illegal to trade in any cheetahs, alive or dead, and their parts or skins.