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Friday, September 20, 2013

Cheetah's running strategy

Who doesn’t love watching a cheetah chase down its prey? Their unprecedented speed allows them to run down anything in the animal kingdom. However, antelope don't flee in a straight line. It’s not enough to simply run full out when your prey is employing a quick turning strategy. Turning at high speed puts great strain on the cheetah’s limbs and muscles. A better strategy might be to quickly close the distance to the prey and then slow down to follow the prey through its turns. And that’s exactly what cheetahs do.

An international team of scientists led by John Wilson of North Carolina State University put GPS and accelerometer loggers on six wild cheetahs in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in southern Africa. They logged information on 41 chases, none lasting more than a minute.


The cheetahs did not accelerate to top speed and maintain that speed until the prey was caught or the cheetah gave up. Instead, they accelerated to high speed but then slowed down to match the speed and turns of their prey. This means that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the cheetahs never ended up traveling faster than racehorses.

But here’s what you really want to see. Slo-mo footage of a running cheetah. Enjoy.

If you want to see how this film was made, skip ahead to 5:40. And you can see the cheetah's actual running speed at about 6:10.

Wilson JW, Mills MG, Wilson RP, Peters G, Mills ME, Speakman JR, Durant SM, Bennett NC, Marks NJ, & Scantlebury M (2013). Cheetahs, Acinonyx jubatus, balance turn capacity with pace when chasing prey. Biology letters, 9 (5) PMID: 24004493.