Typical Cheetah Habitat

Yawning cheetah

What is the preferred cheetah habitat? If you know the answer to this question, you are one step ahead of other safari travellers in seeing this exquisite cat through your viewfinder.

The cheetah is an endangered animal. Their relatively low population numbers in most national parks across Africa mean you don't see them around every bend or on every anthill.

Look For Lookout Points

Anthills are often used by cheetahs as lookout points, along with other raised ground features in an otherwise open grassland area.

I saw a perfect demonstration in the Kruger National Park, South Africa recently. A cheetah mum and her two cubs were feasting on an impala kill. After having their first fill of the meat, the mum left her two cubs lying nearby while she strolled over to an anthill to check out the area. She didn't want any unexpected visitors to surprise their dinner party and steal their food.

The BBC TV series "Big Cat Diary" showed that some cheetahs will readily use a familiar Land Rover for the same purpose!

Open Terrain

Cheetah habitats are usually large areas of flat ground where they are able to chase down their prey. It is best when there aren't lots of trees and rocks in the way. They prefer if the grass is shorter, because long grass can slow them down.

The Serengeti, Masai Mara and Amboseli parks in Tanzania and Kenya respectively, are great examples of the perfect cheetah habitat.

When cheetah cubs are still small, they have long light coloured hair on their backs. This ensures they are perfectly hidden from predators in their ideal habitat - light coloured grass.

Shady Spots

Cheetahs need to rest a lot. They use up a lot of energy when they're chasing prey.

So a good place to look for them is under lone shady trees. They do their hunting during the day, unlike most other cats, and therefore even when they're hiding from the hot sun have to be able to keep an eye out for any unsuspecting gazelle wandering past near their tree.

Leopards might take their escape from the sun in a tree, but it doesn't form part of the cheetah habitat - partly due to its claws not being retractable, like other cats'.

Where The Food Is

The cheetahs habitat is also determined by the availability of prey. In times of drought they may have to follow the gazelle or be satisfied with mice and rabbits.

But they must be careful and aware of the competition. Lion, leopard and wild dog are also after tasty gazelle treats and all are dangerous to the cheetah, which usually hunts alone.

The hyena is a danger in that it will try to kill cheetah cubs and also try to steal any kill made by the cheetah - especially when there's a few of them.

I have seen even vultures chase a cheetah off a kill. The slender cat simply can't afford to get injured. If it can't run fast enough to catch its prey, it can't eat and will die.

So if you've just spotted a big pride of lions lounging around, chances that there'll be a cheetah in the near vicinity are very small.