Usain Bolt is faster than a cheetah

Cheetahs: Secrets of a perfect hunting machine


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Bang! After the starting shot, record sprinter Usain Bolt should probably eat dust in this race. The fastest man in the world has no chance against this opponent. A race against Acinonyx jubatus surely wouldn't be fair - but the comparison shows a cheetah's incredible sprinting abilities. For the first time, scientists have measured this quite reliably. The result is the first detailed movement profile of the hunter.

The result is surprising. With a measured top speed of 104 kilometers per hour (Bolt reaches a maximum of 43.2), the wildcat is the fastest living land animal. But the secret to successful forays lies less in this ability. "Cheetahs rarely run that fast; rather, they use exceptionally high levels of acceleration, deceleration and change of direction," says Alan Wilson of the University of London's Royal Veterinary College. The professor of movement biomechanics led the study with three female and two male cheetahs in the wild. "The animals have to maneuver their prey with sharp turns and rapid changes in speed," explains Wilson the result of the analyzes that his team has carried out and those in the magazine Nature have appeared.

In Botswana, east of the Okavango Delta, the researchers recorded 367 runs of five cheetahs over a period of 17 months. The animals wore collars that Wilson and his team had specially developed. Among other things, the researchers have integrated a GPS module into it. So the exact position of the animals in the savannah could be determined with the help of satellites. In addition, the collars are equipped with an inertial navigation system. Gyroscopes, speedometers and magnetic sensors determined the cheetah's exact position in space. "It wasn't easy to make the collars reliable for use in the wild," says Wilson. The position determinations are accurate to one to two meters.



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Pronounced muscles

"GPS was already used before to track animals," says the veterinarian, "usually only for a few location determinations during the day, but not continuously." The data on the cheetahs that have now accumulated show: On average, the wildcats run very little at high speed. They cover about six kilometers a day and on average only whiz one or two times. Even high speeds rarely exhaust the animals. The cheetahs sprinted at an average of about 50 kilometers per hour and then only for a second or two.

During the hunt, it is particularly important for them to get out of the spot quickly and to brake quickly. During a single sequence of steps, the animals accelerated up to 10.8 kilometers per hour or reduced their speed by up to 14.4 kilometers per hour. That is faster than sport horses can change their course in polo and also faster than greyhounds that start a competition race, explains Wilson.

How pronounced the leg muscles of cheetahs must be becomes clear when you determine the weight-related performance of the animals, which weigh around 50 kilograms. This is how you calculate the potential of athletes, such as professional cyclists. The power is given in watts per kilogram. The highest values ‚Äč‚Äčthat Wilson recorded in the cheetahs were more than 100 watts per kilogram during a sequence of steps. Usain Bolt achieved an average of just 25 watts per kilogram of body weight with one step during the 9.58 seconds of his 100-meter world record sprint.