Most people know that the cheetah is the fastest land animal – a recent study clocked captive cheetahs at almost 65 miles per hour – but a new study has found that the African felines' swiftness is only part of the picture.
Researchers at the University of London's Royal Veterinary College affixed collars outfitted with GPS and inertial sensors to five wild cheetahs in northern Botswana, and monitored the cats' behavior for 17 months. Their study, published in the current issue of Nature, found that, in addition to their blistering speed, the cats' were also capable of some of the greatest rates of acceleration and deceleration of any land animal.
The specially developed collars, which included solar cells, accelerometers, magnetometers, and gyroscopes, precisely monitored the cheetahs' movements as they chased down their prey – usually impalas – in 367 events. The data showed that the cheetahs tended to be a bit slower than their captive counterparts: the top speed recorded was 58 mph, and the average top speed was just over 30 mph.
But what proved to be remarkable was the cats' rapid stops, starts, and turns: The cheetahs accelerated and decelerated at twice the rate as the fastest greyhounds and the best-performing polo horses, both animals that have been specifically bred for their agility. When they turned, the animals experienced centripetal acceleration of more than 1.3 times force of gravity.