A new research study has revealed that the world’s fastest land animal, matches and may even anticipate the escape tactics of different prey when hunting, rather than just relying on its speed and agility.
A new research study has revealed that the world’s fastest land animal, matches and may even anticipate the escape tactics of different prey when hunting, rather than just relying on its speed and agility, as previously thought.
The research team used GPS and accelerometer data loggers deployed on cheetahs, along with traditional observation methods.
Lead researcher Dr Michael Scantlebury, from Queen’s University Belfast, explained: “Our study found that while cheetahs are capable of running at exceptionally high speeds, the common adage that they simply ‘outrun’ their prey does not explain how they are able to capture more agile animals.
“Previous research has highlighted their incredible speed and acceleration and their ability to turn after escaping prey. We have now shown that hunt tactics are prey-specific.
“In other words, we now know that rather than a simple maximum speed chase, cheetahs first accelerate towards their quarry before slowing down to mirror prey-specific escaping tactics […] Basically, cheetahs have clear different chase strategies depending on prey species.”
The research suggests that cheetah chases comprise two primary phases:
- an initial rapid acceleration resulting in high speed to quickly catch up with prey.
- a prey-specific slowing period, 5-8 seconds before the end of the chase, which enables the cheetah to match turns instigated by prey as the distance between them closes.
According to Dr Scantlebury, the time spent in the initial and second phase differs according to prey species, with some species such as ostriches, hares and steenbok attempting to escape by executing sudden changes in direction, while other species such as wildebeest, gemsbok and springbok attempt to run fast in a more or less straight line.
He said: “It almost seems as if the amount of power or effort put into a chase is decided at the beginning of the chase depending on the prey species.”
Dr Gus Mills, from the Lewis Foundation, said: “Modern technology has given us the opportunity to record and measure facets of animal behaviour we have never been able to do. However, too often this is used without the essential backup of simultaneously observing the animals in the wild to validate what is being measured. We have been fortunate to be able to do both.”
The study has been published in the September 2013 edition of the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters.
- The study was funded by a Royal Society International Joint Project grant, a NERC New Investigator award and the Lewis Foundation.