<p>A cheetah looks poised to bolt in Namibia.</p>

A cheetah looks poised to bolt in Namibia.

Photograph by Julia Wimmerlin, National Geographic Your Shot

Stunning Pictures of Cheetahs in Action

In honor of International Cheetah Day, we chose our favorite images of the world's fastest land animal—which is also in danger of extinction.

The world's fastest land animal is hard to catch on camera—but these 21 photographers managed to snap the big cat in action.

Lightweight predators built for sprinting, cheetahs can go from a dead stop to 60 miles per hour in just three seconds. Their spotted coats provide camouflage that allow them to hunt during the day, unlike other big cats.

Cheetahs also have long, flexible spines and large nasal cavities that help them recover after bursts of speed. When they're hunting, the cats' heads remain stable, letting them fix their eyes on prey as their legs propel them forward. (Learn more about wild felines with the Big Cats Initiative.)

However, these speedy predators are racing toward extinction—the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists them as vulnerable.

Only about 7,100 cheetahs remain in the wild in six African countries and Iran, where a handful of the Asian subspecies still live. Human activities have pushed them out of 91 percent of their historic range, which used to cover large swaths of Africa and Asia.

People sometimes kill the cats, thinking they're a threat to livestock. Cheetahs are also hit by vehicles and poached for their parts. Along with their prey, like antelope and hares, the top predator is occasionally killed for bushmeat. (Read how some cheetahs become pets in the Persian Gulf.)

Celebrated every December 4, the Cheetah Conservation Fund's International Cheetah Day aims to bring attention to the plight of these charismatic felines.

Click through our favorite photos of cheetahs while these majestic animals still roam wild.

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