The big cat who traded its roar for unbeatable speed

Supercar designers spend their careers searching for perfection. But no feat of engineering compares to the formula for speed built into a cheetah. As the fastest land animal, these big cats are born to run. Yet they don’t have the…

Supercar designers spend their careers searching for perfection. But no feat of engineering compares to the formula for speed built into a cheetah. As the fastest land animal, these big cats are born to run. Yet they don’t have the same fearsome reputation as a brutal lion or stealthy leopard. Perhaps it’s due to the cheetah’s inability to roar.

Elongated limbs, a flexible spine, and big thigh muscles all enable this animal to take strides of about seven metres in one move. Their tails steer and balance the body in a sprint, acting as a fluffy rudder as the cheetah reaches speeds of over 100 kilometres per hour.

While cheetahs are excellent athletes, they just can’t roar. Instead, they chirrup, cheep, meow, and purr. This bubbling over of sweet sounds is a result of the fixed structure of the bones in their voice box, which limits the range of noises they produce.

Famous for their black tears, these stains have a purpose beyond making cheetahs look cool. The animals are mostly active during the day, and the marks help deflect harsh sunlight from their field of vision. This enables them to sift out lunch from the waving grasslands. It’s a lesser known fact that cheetahs are active at night too. Their evening excursions are tied to the moon – the fuller it is, the more freely they roam.

But cheetahs might be losing the race for their own survival. Growing urbanisation and development destroys their habitat and leads to conflict with farmers. People also hunt cheetahs for their pelts, and both adults and cubs are traded illegally as exotic pets. Many animals die in transit from distress.

However, organisations such as the Cheetah Conservation Fund and Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre are committed to eradicating and managing the threats these animals face. The magnificent creatures deserve our respect. In the savannahs where cheetahs still prowl, it’s a privilege to see them in the wild with their physical prowess on full display.