Cheetah or Gazelle?
Do you root for the cheetah or the gazelle? The classic nature show video is the slow motion footage of a cheetah chasing a gazelle, or other similar animal. As you watch the world’s fastest feline chase its next meal, do you find yourself rooting for the hunter or the prey? The camera zooms in on the hunter to reflect on its long, slender body as it races over the savannah, and then the shot of the gazelle running for its life. After a few more moments, the chase is over. Maybe the gazelle got away this time to run another day. Or maybe you are watching dinner theater.
|Tale of the Tape:||Cheetah|
|Length of body||1.1-1.5 meters|
|Length of tail||60-80 cm|
|Lifespan||Up to 17 years|
|Top Speed||75 mph|
The cheetah truly is a fascinating animal, and scenes like these from nature shows help us to appreciate the movements of this wild animal. Researchers at North Carolina State University have recently used GPS technology to better understand how cheetahs move and chase after their prey. Using a GPS tracking chip placed in a collar, researchers have been able to obtain more information about the actions, motions, and habits of the cheetah. The study was conducted on free-range cheetahs at the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Botswana (Southern Africa), and the collars used for the GPS technology were designed to fall off after the study.
Cheetahs and Race Cars
One thing found in the study using GPS technology was that cheetahs move more like racecars than dragsters. A drag race car reaches its peak speed quickly and then slows down. A race car is constantly adjusting its speed to maneuver the curves and around other cars on the racetrack. While cheetahs can reach top speeds of 75 mph, they are not constantly travelling at that speed. As they chase their prey, they are continually adjusting their speed through a variety of movements based on the behavior of their target. They use their tail to act like a ships rudder to quickly change direction as they are engaging in the chase. Their quickness is in short bursts to make the most of their energy and not waste it. Despite being the fastest land animal, their chases are only successful about half of the time. Not a bad ratio, but just being fast isn’t enough. If the gazelle or other animal can simply outlast the cheetah, their chance for survival goes up.
|Animal/vehicle||Top Speed||0-60 time|
|Cheetah||75 mph||Under 3 seconds|
|Enzo Ferrari||218 mph||3.65 seconds|
|Stock Car Racer||Upwards of 220 mph||2.9 seconds|
Cheetahs and Other Animals
Greyhounds and race horses are other animals created for speed. One of the major differences in studying these animals and cheetahs is that the other two animals are domesticated and would be studied in a very controlled circumstance. Greyhounds and horses don’t chase their prey for survival (though greyhounds would if they were not domesticated) and therefore, their natural tendencies would not be natural. A race course is an artificial situation that horses and dogs are not naturally put in. Research has indicated that greyhounds and horses are built more for acceleration, but cheetahs have the need for speed to ensure their survival (which might not quite be enough, considering a drop in population from 100,000 in 1900 to about 12,000 today). Greyhounds and horses pale in comparison to the top speeds of cheetahs, going almost half as fast as cheetahs, but racehorses have considerably more endurance (and size) and can maintain their top speeds longer. Cheetah top speed bursts are only for about 20-60 seconds.
Cheetahs and Their Prey
Cheetahs mostly hunt gazelles, impalas, wildebeests, and zebras. These animals are mostly pack animals that survive in herds. Survival is sometimes not dependent on outrunning the cheetah, but sometimes in outrunning the other animals in the pack. Usually, the cheetah will pick out one of the group to chase and try to catch it, but will often avoid other animals not in motion as they chase their target.
Whether you root for the gazelle or the cheetah, the chase is exciting to watch. Thanks to GPS technology used to track the movements of these fantastic creatures, we have a better understanding of their efforts. Whatever the outcome of the chase, we can surely be thankful that we are safely watching from our couch, and don’t have a first-hand view of the chase!