The saying goes that speed kills but, according to this report by the BBC, when it comes to cheetahs it’s their remarkable ability to accelerate and switch directions on a dime that brings home the prey.
“A study of cheetahs has shown…this acceleration by exerting nearly five times more power than that of famed sprinter Usain Bolt during his record-breaking 100m run. The findings amazed the scientist who led the research, Prof Alan Wilson of the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, UK. “They are remarkable athletes – not just in terms of their speed, but also with their ability to accelerate and manoeuvre in capturing the prey,” he told BBC News.
The top speed for a cheetah is often quoted is 65mph (105km/h) – a result measured in 1965 and published in the Journal of Zoology three decades later by a scientist in Kenya. He was timing the run of a semi-domesticated cheetah running in a straight line on a firm dirt track. But a well-fed zoo cheetah is not accustomed to running very fast – it does not need to. As a result, few measurements of zoo cheetahs found speeds greater than that of a greyhound, about 40mph (64km/h).
Prof Wilson and his team at the college’s Structure and Motion Laboratory decided to find out by following five animals in the wild for a year using tracking collars fitted with movement detectors and GPS systems.They found that the cheetahs did indeed run very fast at times – close to 60mph – but only occasionally. On most hunts they attained about 30 to 35 mph but they were accelerating and changing direction much more rapidly than has been seen in any other land animal. For sprinters and predators, speed is not the only variable for success – acceleration counts. They found that cheetahs could increase their speed by nearly 7mph (10km/h) in a single stride.”
Check out this breakneck Smithsonian video of a cheetah in action and consider an opportunity to see the world’s fastest animal for yourself on a South African Safari.