Cheetah GPS Tracking Study Reveals Insane Acceleration and Maneuverability

11 Jul 2013

The cat’s out of the bag: New GPS study shows the startling maneuverability and acceleration of cheetahs.

It is no surprise that cheetah’s are the fastest animal on land. But before now, this was only an assumption and not a proven fact. But the newest GPS tracking technology has helped show conclusively that they are not only the fastest land animal on Earth, but to a shocking and insane degree.

Before GPS tracking led the way to measuring their speed, acceleration and maneuverability, it was only measured while cheetahs were held captive. While they have somewhat of a natural habitat, it wasn’t the ideal situation to truly get a measurement. So researchers at the Structure and Motion Laboratory at Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in London started a research study using GPS trackers.

The study, which was published in the June issue of Nature magazine, was led by Professor Alan Wilson and his colleagues at RVC. They discovered the top speed of the cheetahs and more about their movements and hunting dynamics.

Wilson’s research team began the study by creating motion sensor collars for the cheetahs to wear, which included GPS tracking technology.

Among the first data released from the study, was the discovery that cheetahs run up to 58 mph, which is over twice as fast as Usain Bolt, the fastest human on Earth.

After developing the GPS motion collars, the research team at RVC tested the equipment in South Africa. They tested it with cheetahs at the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre in South Africa. These cheetahs are well trained, allowing the team to watch their movements and be sure the equipment was ready for cats out in the wild, in their natural habitat. After they felt it was successful, the team tested the movements of cheetahs in the Okavango Delta region in Northern Botswana, South Africa.

Aside from the GPS trackers, the motion sensor collars also included gyroscopes, magnetometers and accelerometers for the best velocity, movement and position data. A total of 367 runs by 2 males and 3 males were measured throughout the study.

The highest speeds of the cheetahs occurred when they were hunting prey, starting from a slow-moving or stopped position, gradually moving up to their fast speeds. Just before capturing prey, the cats were found to decelerate slightly. Most of the prey caught by cheetahs during this study were impalas.

The fastest speed by a cheetah was 58 mph with the majority of their runs being approximately 27 mph. On average, they would run 567 feet, with the longest being 1,830 feet. Approximately 25 percent of these runs turned up the capture of prey. It seems as though the way the cheetahs maneuver leads to the successful capture of their prey, as opposed to their speed.

Profession Alan Wilson, head of the study, told reporters:  “Although the cheetah is recognized as the fastest land animal, very little is known about other aspects of its notable athleticism, particularly when hunting in the wild. Our technology allowed us to capture what to our knowledge is the first detailed locomotor information on the hunting dynamics of a large cursorial predator in its natural habitat and as a result we were able to record some of the highest measured values for lateral and forward acceleration, deceleration and body mass.”

In the future, the research team wants to conduct a study on how the terrain in their natural habitat will affect their ability to hunt. This study will be called LOCATE.

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