Young cheetahs, Africa

Guide to Big Cat Safaris: Cheetahs

Cheetahs are the speed merchants of Africa's grasslands. Find the best places to see cheetahs in the wild.

Young cheetahs, Africa

© Jeff&Wendy

Cheetahs: Fast, sleek and spotted

Cheetahs are the flexible, high-speed cats of the African plains. For short durations, they can reach 70mph helped by their slim frame, long legs and long tail. These sleek, spotty supermodels of the savannah have distinctive tear stripes from the inner corner of their eye to their mouth – these markings, their frame, and the solid black spots (as opposed to the rosette on a leopard’s coat) clearly mark them out as cheetahs.

Females are usually alone unless they have cubs, but males often stay together in what is known as a coalition, often of siblings but not necessarily. They become a powerful hunting machine when they join forces in this way. Hunting by day, they rely on their sight to pick out prey, which is why you’ll frequently see them on termite mounds or low trees.

Our guide was obviously very well-respected, as rangers gave him/us special permission to get close to a cheetah mama with 3 new-borns which guide said were born either just minutes or a few hours prior to our arrival. Extraordinary.

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Cheetahs chasing wildebeest, Tanzania © Jeff&Wendy

Seeing cheetahs on an Africa safari

It’s often hard to predict where a cheetah might be, however they’ll often be spotted on a termite mound or simply in the middle of the grasslands they’re hunting on. You need to keep your distance, especially if they are hunting as it would be easy to cause them to abandon a hunt if you got too close. A hunt by a coalition is quite a spectacular and thrilling sight.
If you come across a mother, you’ll see that cubs are very playful, and up to about 3 months they have a kind of punk ruff of hair down their back.

The best places to see cheetahs in the wild

You can’t really plan an African safari just to see cheetahs. It could easily end in disappointment if luck isn’t on your side. However, if you go to the places where there are good populations of cheetahs, and give yourself time, you stand a reasonably good chance of spotting one of these amazing big cats. Here are just some of our suggestions.

The best time to see cheetahs

You can see cheetahs all year in Africa, and because they are diurnal, you’re more likely to see a cheetah hunt than either a lion or leopard. They prefer the early mornings and later afternoons.

Seeing a cheetah with her 2 cubs watching her on a kill which we witnessed from start to finish was unbelievable to watch.

Conservation of cheetahs

As well as the usual threats of habitat destruction and human-wildlife conflict causing drastic drops in the cheetah population, cubs are also stolen for the exotic pet trade.
Another issue with these delicately-framed cats is that the larger, heavier cats and other predators such as hyenas tend to steal the cheetahs’ kills and often attack and kill them. It’s not easy being a cheetah.
Various charities aim to help big cats including cheetahs, with Cheetah Conservation Botswana being one.

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