| Cheetahs 'more powerful than a motorbike'|
|Cheetahs can generate four times the maximum power output of Usain Bolt when they sprint and have a manoeuvrability unmatched by any other animal when hunting prey, according to scientists who tracked the big cats in their natural habitat.|
"[Cheetahs] are getting lateral accelerations bigger than a motorbike can achieve," said Alan Wilson of the UK's Royal Veterinary College. "They're operating at the extreme of athletic performance."
His team attached collars, enabled with GPS and accelerometers, to five wild cheetahs in the Okavango Delta in Botswana and tracked the speed and fancy footwork of 367 runs by the animals over the course of a year.
They recorded a top speed of 58mph – making cheetahs the fastest land animal on Earth – but the average was much lower, around 31.5mph. Most of the runs were under 45mph. "When you consider a racehorse or greyhound goes at 40mph, that's quite impressive," said Wilson. His results are published on Thursday in Nature.
Wilson's study found that, though the cheetahs could run at great speeds, they mostly choose not to when hunting. "What they can do is accelerate and manoeuvre really rather well, better than anything else that's been measured in a large animal and that's probably much more critical in terms of capturing a large animal," he said.
"I was impressed by the sheer athleticism in every respect, from manoeuvring to acceleration to deceleration."
The cheetahs were able to accelerate by up to 3 metres per second and slow down by 4 metres per second in a single stride. At their greatest acceleration, the animals's muscles produced a power output of 100 watts per kg – which is four times greater than the power produced by Usain Bolt when he ran the 100m sprint at the world record time of 9.58s.
Polo horses can produce muscle power output of around 30 w/kg and racing greyhounds produce 60w/kg.
In addition, Wilson's team found that the animals were much more versatile hunters than previously thought. He saw them hunting at night, and in dense scrub as well as in open terrain. "Only one part of their repertoire is performance," he said.