Cheetahs have some quite unusual strategies for hunting that are not seen in any of the other big cats of Africa. It is a well-known fact that cheetahs are the fastest animals in the world on land and their hunting strategies rely heavily on speed and agility as we will discover in this post.
How do cheetahs hunt? Cheetahs hunt by sneaking up on their target before engaging in a high-speed chase. When they catch up to their target, cheetahs grab their target’s legs to make them trip and fall which paralyzes them briefly due to the high speed, allowing the cheetah to kill it.
Several things make cheetahs unique when it comes to their hunting style, for instance, that they are the only big African cat that hunts during the day. Below, I have described why this is the case and much more about how cheetahs hunt for food.
Cheetahs Are High-Speed Hunters
Cheetahs are the world’s fastest animals on land and that is no accident or coincidence. Cheetahs are the ultimate high-speed hunters and are built perfectly for the high-speed chases that involve not only speeds almost beyond belief but also rapid accelerations and taking quick, precise turns in an instant.
The top speed of cheetahs is 68 mph (110 km/h).
Cheetahs are perfectly aerodynamic with a slender body with no excess weight, very light bones, and a small head. Unlike other big cats such as lions and leopards, cheetahs have non-retractable claws that provide them with optimal grip and traction and the ability to take sharp turns at ultra-high speeds.
When cheetahs hunt, they will sneak up on their target and get as close as they can to improve their chances of quickly catching up. When they are close enough, cheetahs will accelerate at an incredible speed and engage in a high-speed chase with their target.
When they get close enough to their target, cheetahs will reach out and attempt to grab their target’s legs and make them trip or lose balance and fall otherwise. Falling at such high speeds will make them paralyzed for a brief moment which is when the cheetah goes in for the kill by biting the prey animal’s throat.
If they fail to make their hunting target trip and fall, cheetahs will have wasted very valuable time and perhaps only have one more chance at catching their target before having to give up.
Because of their unparalleled ability to accelerate rapidly and running and taking turns at ultra-high speeds, cheetahs have an extremely high hunting success rate. In some areas of Africa, cheetahs’ hunting success rate is over 50% which is much higher than most other predators.
What Time of Day do Cheetahs Hunt?
Hunting at such high speeds is not an easy task and requires ideal conditions for cheetahs to succeed. This brings us to a quite fascinating fact about cheetahs that makes them very unique compared to other large African predators such as lions, leopards, and hyenas.
Cheetahs are the only big African cats that are diurnal which means that they are active and hunt during the day. Lions and leopards and also other predators such as spotted hyenas and African wild dogs are all nocturnal.
So why are cheetahs diurnal when most of the other African predators are nocturnal? Cheetahs hunt during the day since they are built for speed rather than for strength and hunting at the incredible speeds that cheetahs do requires light conditions which they only have during the day.
It is extremely dangerous for cheetahs to hunt at night since they cannot see their surroundings as well as they can during the day. Cheetahs have been observed killing themselves by running at full speed and hitting a rock, a tree, or similar at night, simply because they could not see well enough in the dark.
Since cheetahs hunt at such high speeds, they tend to overheat rather quickly and their high-speed chases rarely last for longer than 20 seconds. For this reason, cheetahs mostly hunt in the morning or the evening since they have the light they need without the sun being at its highest point, making it too warm to hunt efficiently.
On very rare occasions, however, cheetahs have actually been observed hunting at night but this has mostly been during a full moon. The theory behind this phenomenon is that the full moon sometimes illuminates an area enough for the cheetahs to see well enough to hunt. Although this does happen, it is a rare event since hunting during the day will always be easier for the cheetahs.
Another big reason why cheetahs hunt during the day is to minimize the risk of competition from other large predators such as the ones I have mentioned earlier in this post (lions, leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs) since these are all nocturnal. Cheetahs’ aerodynamic, speed-optimized bodies do not have nearly as much muscle and strength as these larger, stronger predators and a confrontation usually ends with the cheetah having to give up its prey.
Being diurnal allows cheetahs to avoid most of these unpleasant confrontations with stronger predators.
Despite avoiding most of the competition by hunting at different times of the day, it is still not very uncommon that cheetahs are being confronted by larger predators and eventually have to give up their prey.
In the impressive footage below, you can see just how intense these confrontations can get.
What Animals do Cheetahs Prey On?
Cheetahs are carnivores and eat meat almost exclusively. They are extremely efficient and adaptive hunters that can hunt many different species of animals depending on their territory.
Cheetahs’ preferred prey animals are small and medium-sized antelopes such as springboks and impalas but in areas where these are not found in bountiful numbers, cheetahs will also happily hunt for birds, hares, and other small critters.
They can also hunt the babies of most larger animals and especially the youngest of the larger antelopes can be an attractive hunting target for cheetahs.
Sometimes young male cheetahs stay in small groups. These groups are called coalitions and usually consist of between 2 and 5 young male cheetahs that are usually related to each other. When cheetahs hunt together in these coalitions, they can take down larger prey animals such as wildebeests, kudus, oryxes, and even young giraffes.