Slower speed, tricky turns give prey a chance against cheetahs and lions | Science News

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Slower speed, tricky turns give prey a chance against cheetahs and lions

A treasure trove of chase data from the wild shows how to escape more athletic predators

By
10:00am, January 29, 2018
cheetah

FAST CATS Big cats like this cheetah may be more athletic than their prey, but life-and-death chases are about more than speed. Sharp turns may give prey their best chance at escape.

First, a note to any impala suddenly rushed by a cheetah: Do not — repeat, do not — just zoom straight off as fast as four hooves can carry you.

The best escape move, according to analysis of the most detailed chase data yet from big cat predators, is some fluky turn, even though turning requires a slower stride. Swerve far enough, and the cheetah will be racing too fast to make the same turn.

Overall, cheetahs and lions are more athletic than the impalas and zebras they chase, but prey still have a chance, says Alan Wilson of the Royal Veterinary College of the University of London in Hatfield. He and his colleagues worked with researchers in Botswana to collect abundant motion data — several hundred thousand strides’ worth — from wild animals and reconstruct their sprints and turns. “You’re actually doing a step-by-step dissection,” Wilson says, “which

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