- During a chase, cheetahs can go from zero to 45 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds.
- The cheetah’s speed makes them the fastest land animal in the world.
- Thompson’s gazelles can sprint at up to 50 miles per hour, bounding and arcing in different directions.
Cheetahs are powerful hunters that can run faster than any other animal on the planet. These critically endangered big cats have semi-retractable claws and flexible spines that help them reach a top speed of 75 miles per hour.
In this spectacular high-speed chase, you can see a cheetah hot on a Thompson’s gazelle’s heels. The gazelle dodges left and right, making quick turns in what becomes a futile escape attempt when the cheetah tackles it in the grass.
Are Cheetahs Endangered?
In short, yes. There are four accepted subspecies and all but the southeast African cheetah have fewer than 500 individuals per subspecies in the wild. However, that doesn’t mean the southeast African cheetah isn’t in danger. The IUCN Redlist classifies it as vulnerable. There are probably less than 4,000 of those in the wild.
How do Cheetahs Run So Fast?
While cheetahs are big cats, they are highly specialized big cats and only weigh between 46 and 159 pounds. Their long legs and flexible spines give cheetahs a nearly 23-foot stride length and a top speed of 75 miles per hour. But getting a solid grip to reach that speed is also part of their specialized body — their blunt claws are only semi-retractable and work like an athlete’s cleats, grabbing the ground as they run.
The specialization doesn’t end there — their tail is part of the game too! Cheetah’s tails are proportionately longer than most cats and they use their tails like a rudder to help make quick directional changes during a high speed chase like this one.
However, the cheetah’s speed has a downside: limited distances. Cheetahs can only run at top speed for about 1,600 feet before they must stop. Just like human sprinters, cheetahs can’t run marathons, so if the prey can run and dodge long enough, it wins.
The Cheetah’s Hunting Style
Like most big cats, cheetahs prefer to stalk their prey before resorting to running it down. Although some young males form groups and hunt in prey-rich territories, females hunt a large territory and are typically solitary. Cheetahs use the natural habitat and wind direction to mask their approach.
These master hunters approach from downwind and creep through long grasses, trying to evade detection. Their goal is to get close enough to grab their prey by the throat in their vice-like mouth grip.
When the cheetah is spotted, the chase is on!
Cheetah’s Speedy Prey
Predator and prey are locked in an eternal arms race. In this video, a Thompson’s gazelle tries to out maneuver the cheetah long enough for it to give up. The gazelle only has to run for about 1,600 feet — the same as a 500 meter dash. However, this time the cheetah wins when the gazelle doesn’t turn quickly enough.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © JonathanC Photography/Shutterstock.com
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