Prey consists principally of small- to midsized ungulates, usually weighing less than 40 kg: however, body weights of prey have a large range, from the calves of African Buffalo Syncerus caffer and Giraffes Giraffa camelopardalis to ground-living birds and small mammals, including hares, porcupines, rats and guineafowl.
Cheetahs prefer to kill and actually kill the most available prey present at a site in a body mass range of 23-56 kg with a peak (mode) at 36 kg. Blesboks Damaliscus pygargus, Impalas Aepyceros melampus, Thomson’s Gazelles Eudorcas thomsonii, and Grant’s Gazelles Nanger granti, and Springboks Antidorcas marsupialis.
The preferred prey species offer minimal injury risk and their small size means Cheetahs can bolt down their meat before kleptoparasites arrive without risking losing too much food. In the savanna woodlands of Kruger N. P., Impalas are the dominant prey item (68% of more than 2500 kills), although Cheetahs actually displayed in KwaZulu–Natal, where Cheetahs were reintroduced, the most common prey species taken was Nyala Tragelaphus angasii (the most abundant, medium-sized ungulate available), which constituted 39% of all kills, followed by Impala (34. 5% of all kills).
In the Kalahari, Springboks are the dominant prey (86.9% of kills), while in Kafue N. P. in Zambia, Pukus Kobus vardonii were taken most frequently. In the Serengeti, Tanzania, Thomson’s Gazelles were the most preferred prey, while in Nairobi N. P., the three, favored prey were Impalas (27% of 183 kills), Grant’s Gazelles (25%) and Thomson’s Gazelles (22%).
In the Sahara, the main prey includes Dorcas Gazelles Gazella dorcas and Dama Gazelles Nanger dama, bustards, ostriches, hares, hedgehogs, as well as camels and goats and sheep. Throughout its range, young animals are taken in preference to adults, especially in the case of larger species such as Common Wildebeests Connochaetes taurinus.
For example, in Serengeti N. P., Thomson’s Gazelle fawns constituted 53.7% of Cheetah kills, but only 5.9% of the gazelle population. Success rates in hunting neonates are high. In addition, Cheetahs select ungulate prey that is alone or in small groups, in high vegetation, less vigilant, on the edge of the herd, and far from nearest neighbors.
Adult cheetah needs around 2.5-3.5 kg of meat per day to be healthy. Cheetah prey composition depends on the relative abundance of prey species in the area. Cheetah seldom takes prey larger than 60 kg and do not scavenge carcasses killed by other predators, preferring fresh meat from their own kills.
A cheetah hunt follows one of three basic strategies pouncing on unsuspecting researching for prey using a vantage point such as pushing or charging prey against a game or stock fence. A kill usually begins with a short high-speed chase of 100-250m. The cheetah then trips its prey with a smack against the hind legs, jumps over it, and smothers it by sinking its fangs into the throat.
The average speed of cheetah recorded in the Serengeti was 87km/h, although they can reach a top speed of 104 km/h. The breathing rate of a cheetah increases tenfold during a chase. An unnecessary energy loss is prevented by determining the potential of a successful outcome early in the chase and aborting it if it is low.
When more than one cheetah feeds together their bodies lie in a circle around the carcass forming a unique star-like pattern. The cheetah’s water needs are met by the blood that accumulates in the cavities of a kill. Therefore, they are independent of surface water although they will drink if water is available.
Wild fruit such as the tsamma and gemsbok cucumber found in the arid Kalahari, have high moisture content and are often chewed by the cheetah to supplement their water supply.
They kill their prey by choking it, but when killing smaller animals like hares, they bite the skull. Other animals, which together contribute less than 5% of the cheetahs’ diet, include ostriches, bustards, guinea fowls, mole rats, and cane rats. They show limited versatility in prey due to their physical specialization for speed. Young animals are always favored by adults.
There are 5 different hunting methods described for the cheetah: Walking slowly towards their prey in plain sight and braking in a sprint from 60-70m away. They wait squatting or sitting for their prey to move towards them. If the prey is distracted, the search started up to 600 m. Stalking its prey while walking semi crouched, freezing in mid-stride or dropping to the ground until it is close to launch an attack.
Cheetahs are diurnal animals that have two hunting peaks a day. The first is between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. and the second is between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. By viewing this program, they try to avoid competition with other predators such as lions and spotted hyenas. Due to their build, jaws and claws they are no match for other carnivores and will hand over their kills rather than risk injury.
Another strategy to reduce the loss of a catch to competitors is to swallow their food quickly, they can consume up to 14 kg in one sitting. After they have suffocated their kill, they drag it to the nearest cover or shade and start by eating the hindquarters of their kill; they usually ingest around 24 kg/day.
During gestation, the female’s diet changes to adjust to their demanding bodily requirements, such as the need to increase calcium. They begin to take only smaller prey, such as newborn hares and gazelles, whose bones they can eat entirely. Also, as the pregnancy progresses, their movements become more restricted and the change in the diet decreases the risk of injury.
The cheetah hunts by sight rather than by smell. Prey is hunted within a radius of 10 to 30 m (33 to 98 ft) and then chased. This is usually over in less than a minute, and if the cheetah fails to catch quickly, it will give up. The cheetah has a hunting success rate of about 50%. Reaching speeds between 112 and 120 km/h (70 and 75 mph) puts a strain on the cheetah’s body. When sprinting, the temperature of the body of the cheetah becomes so high that would be deadly for them if they continue. That is why they rest after the meal.