Photo of the Day #33: Cheetah

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One of the three male Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) at the Philadelphia Zoo. While many cats are known for their solitary habits, cheetahs can be quite social (although they do not possess the some sort of social system seen in Lions [Panthera leo]). In the wild males often will form coalitions of two, three, or even four individuals, often being brothers from the same litter. Outside males can be accepted into a coalition, but more often than not the groups are made of brothers, a coalition being much more likely to gain a territory of its own than a single individual. I could be wrong as I have not studied the hunting behavior of such coalitions in the field, but it does not seem to directly resemble the social hunting tactics of lions, as most footage I’ve seen usually has one male cheetah being the primary pursuer, the others to the side to try and catch the prey if it suddenly diverts course. Once they prey is captured, though, coalitions have to share food amongst themselves, likely trading the frequency of successful hunts with less food at any particular meal. (As Ian notes in the comments, though, cheetahs are very successful and the coalition does not appear to significantly increase the amount of food they catch. Instead, it seems coalitions are more important to territory, but a consequence of forming a coalition is charing kills with other members of the group.)