It inhabits a variety of mostly arid habitats like dry forests, scrub forests, and savannahs. The species is IUCN Red Listed as Vulnerable, as it suffered a substantial decline in its historic range in the 20th century due to habitat loss, poaching for the illegal pet trade, and conflict with humans. By 2016, the global cheetah population has been estimated at approximately 7,100 individuals in the wild. Several African countries have taken steps to improve cheetah conservation measures.
The cheetah was formally described by Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber in 1775 and is the only extant member of the genus Acinonyx. Its yellowish tan or rufous to greyish white coat is uniformly covered with nearly 2,000 solid black spots. Its body is slender with a small rounded head, black tear-like streaks on the face, deep chest, long thin legs and long spotted tail. It reaches 70–90 cm (28–35 in) at the shoulder, and weighs 21–72 kg (46–159 lb).
The cheetah breeds throughout the year, and is an induced ovulator. Gestation lasts nearly three months, resulting in a litter of typically three to five, in rare cases up to eight cubs. They are weaned at the age of about six months. After siblings become independent from their mother, they usually stay together for some time. It is active mainly during the day, with hunting its major activity. It is a carnivore and preys mainly upon antelopes. It stalks its prey to within 100–300 m (330–980 ft), charge towards it and kill it by tripping it during the chase and biting its throat to suffocate it to death. Female cheetahs are solitary or live with their offspring in home ranges. Adult males are sociable despite their territoriality, forming groups called coalitions.
African cheetahs may achieve successful hunts only running up to a speed of 64 km/h (40 mph) while hunting due to their exceptional ability to accelerate; but are capable of accelerating up to 112 km/h (70 mph) on short distances of 100 m (330 ft). It is therefore the fastest land animal. Because of its prowess at hunting, the cheetah has been tamed already in the 16th century BC in Egypt and used to kill game at hunts. It has been widely depicted in art, literature, advertising and animation.