Friday, June 14, 2013

Cheetah chase

We've heard from a young age how quickly cheetahs can sprint across the African savanna to take down their prey. Now British researchers at the Royal Veterinary College’s Structure & Motion Laboratory have put that to the test and determined that it is not speed alone which accounts for their effectiveness. They outfitted 5 wild adult cheetahs (3 females and 2 males that are part of a population under continuous study in the Okavango Delta region of northern Botswana) with a special collar they designed. It weighs only 12 ounces (340 g), is solar-powered, and provides an unprecedented amount of data that can be downloaded by radio. Its features include GPS, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers, which indicate position, posture, and balance. Over a 17-month period, the scientists analyzed 367 verified hunting runs– 26% of which were successful – and found that the animals maintained their top measured speed of 58 mph (93 km) for only a second or two. "[T]he big cats’ hunting successes were based on maneuverability and behavior rather than simply speed. According to their study, published today in Nature, the cheetah’s ability to accelerate and decelerate rapidly without losing its footing, and to turn tightly at moderate speeds, appears to be more important than being flat-out fast."

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