In the real world, cheetahs rarely go all out

Famous for speed, the big cats actually rely on acceleration

1:52pm, June 12, 2013

TOP CAT A high-tech collar that records location, acceleration and other details of cheetah movements has given an unprecedented look at how the world’s fastest land animal hunts in the wild.

Cheetahs may run down a track faster than any other land animal. But in the wild, the cats rarely hit top speed; it’s quick bursts of acceleration and sudden slow-downs that get the cats their dinner.

“They’re not going particularly quickly usually,” says Alan M. Wilson of the University of London Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield.

But cheetahs have got some great moves. With first-of-its-kind tracking of cheetahs on the hunt, Wilson and his colleagues show that the animals can accelerate with four times the power of world champion sprinter Usain Bolt. And the cats can put on the brakes much better than polo ponies do.

Wilson and colleagues developed collars that record both location using GPS and movement details such as acceleration. Fitted on three female and two male adult cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) in Botswana, the collars recorded a total of 367 running episodes, 94 of them successful hunts, the researchers report June 12 in Nature.

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