Cheetahs are the fastest land animals in the world and can reach speeds of over 60 mph. Often mistaken for leopards because of their spotted coats, cheetahs are also known for their long legs and graceful bodies. Most of what is known about baby cheetahs is based on observations of these reclusive and endangered animals in the wild.
Baby cheetahs are called cubs and are usually born in litters of three to five. They are blind at birth and are covered with a thick coat of fur, called a mantle, which helps to protect them from predators. In the wild, cheetah cubs have a high mortality rate, approximately 90 percent, and it is estimated that 50 to 75 percent of cheetah cubs die before they reach three months of age.
The mantle is shed gradually during the first year and a half of a cheetah's life as the cub grows and learns to be an independent hunter and adult. After four months, baby cheetahs have the tawny, spotted coats of an adult. By the time that a cheetah is 15 months old, it will have reached its full adult size and will have a white tip on its tail.
Baby cheetahs nurse for approximately three months, but can also begin eating meat when they are as young as 3 weeks old. After 6 weeks, cheetah cubs begin following their mother when she hunts and learn how to catch and kill antelope (the cheetah's main source of food), small mammals, birds and rabbits.
Although adult cheetahs are solitary animals, it is not uncommon for cheetah siblings (especially brothers) to hunt together throughout their lives. These social bonds allow cheetahs to hunt more effectively and to go after larger prey, such as wildebeasts and zebras.
One of the reasons that cheetahs are endangered in the wild is because of the high mortality rate of baby cheetahs. Because of this, many zoos and animal sanctuaries devote time and research funding toward the development of cheetah breeding programs in captivity.