Cheetah Top Speed May Be Less Than 60 MPH

A cheetah’s top speed may not be as fast as biologists reported in the past. According to a study published online Wednesday in Nature, five wild cheetahs tested in Botswana, Africa never exceeded a top speed of 58 miles per hour in 367 runs.

However, that speed was enough to allow the cheetah to hold the title of world’s fastest land animal. For an even faster animal, check out my peregrine falcon videos that show the world’s fastest bird catching a champion downhill mountain biker.

A partly domesticated cheetah in Kenya running in a straight line reportedly hit a top speed of 65 miles per hour. That record came somewhat into doubt over the years since zoo cheetahs haven’t been measured at speeds faster than 40 mph, perhaps because well-fed zoo specimens don’t have the need for speed that wild hunters do.

In the new study, the five wild cheetahs were pretty conservative with their energy much of the time, mostly hunting at moderate speeds of around 30-35 miles per hour. However, they demonstrated an impressive ability to accelerate.

Lead researcher Alan Wilson of the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, UK told BBC News:

“They are remarkable athletes – not just in terms of their speed, but also with their ability to accelerate… in capturing the prey…They’ve arranged to have a low gear so they can accelerate very rapidly up to their top speed.”

An interesting finding: The wild cheetahs could actually increase their speed by 7 mph in just one stride.

Here’s a Smithsonian Channel clip of running cheetahs. Their researchers said the cheetah reaches a top speed of 75 miles per hour.

However, they agreed with the new study that it’s the acceleration that’s most impressive. The Smithsonian noted that the cheetah accelerates faster than supercars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis — going from zero to 60 in just three seconds.

It may depend on the cheetah in question. I don’t run as fast as Usain Bolt.

Couldn’t some cheetahs’ top speed be faster than that of the five cats in the new study?

[captive cheetah running photo by Mark Dumont via Flickr and Creative Commons]