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The elegant cheetah, the fastest mammal on earth, is an endangered species. Although hunting and habitat destruction account for most of the loss of this graceful spotted breed, the cheetah's own reproductive cycle makes replenishment difficult. Female cheetahs only give birth about every 18 months, with high cub mortality rates.
Cheetahs reach reproductive age between 20 and 24 months, with females coming into heat at any time of year. Gestation lasts approximately three months, resulting in a litter of between four and six cubs. While the mother weans the cubs between the ages of 3 and 6 months, they don't go off on their own at that point. Cubs stay with their mother until the ages of 16 to 18 months, at which point this family unit breaks up while the mother goes off to find a mate.
Cheetah cub mortality rates are quite high. It's unusual for all cubs in the litter to survive to adulthood. Most cubs die when very young, as the mother must leave her babies in search of prey. While she is out, other predators, such as lions, move in and kill cubs.
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