While seven subspecies of cheetah have been identified, five subspecies are considered valid by most taxonomists. These are Acinonyx jubatus venaticus, Acinonyx jubatus hecki, Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii, Acinonyx jubatus raineyii and Acinonyx jubatus raddei.
The cheetah belongs to the cat family Felidae, which evolved in the Miocene epoch approximately 20 million years ago. The early species, known as Acinonyx pardinensis, was larger than the modern cheetah and migrated from North America to Asia, India, Europe and Africa about 200,000 years ago where it evolved into its present form. The cheetah narrowly survived a time of mass extinction during the Pleistocene era about 10,000 years ago, after which its population gradually increased.
The cheetah differs in both anatomy and behaviour from the other 36 species of the Felidae family. It is the fastest land mammal over short distances, and it is the only cat with semi non-retractable claws that grip the ground for traction when running. The cheetah is identified by the long tear-drop-shaped lines on each side of the nose from the corner of its eyes to its mouth. They live throughout the drier parts of sub-Saharan Africa in a variety of habitats, from grasslands and savannas to more mountainous terrain.