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The Cheetah’s Speed Limit

October 8, 2020

The Cheetah’s Speed Limit

- as seen by -

Luke Hunter Luke Hunter

A young cheetah gazes at a speed sign in South Africa’s Phinda Private Game Reserve. As an adult, his top speed will easily double the nearly 25 mph (40 km/h) limit meant for local traffic. By some accounts, it will come close to trebling it – 68 to 74.5 mph (110 to 120 km/h) is often cited as the cheetah’s top speed.

In fact, we still don’t know precisely the maximum speed the cheetah can reach. When I took this photo in 1993, the most accurate recording was one made in 1965. A tame female in Kenya had been trained to run a 200m straight course behind a Land Rover (with a piece of meat on the back as an inducement). She was timed with a handheld stopwatch over three, flat-out attempts, with a half-hour rest in between. The average of her three sprints – 63.7 mph (102.5 km/h) – is, even today, the highest recorded speed attained by a land mammal.

Since then, modern technology has refined the estimate and it is surprisingly consistent. In 2015, a cheetah from the Cincinnati Zoo named Sarah reached 61 mph/h (98.2 km) over 100m. Wild cheetahs in Botswana fitted with GPS collars containing highly sensitive motion sensors never exceeded 58 mph (93 km/h). And interestingly, most hunts were much slower, with an average top speed of 33 mph (53.7 km/h). The Botswana cheetahs lived in wooded savanna habitat where they hunted mainly impalas and warthogs; thick vegetation meant they weren’t able (and didn’t need to) reach the top speed possible for the species.

For me, that is still an open question. Seeing a cheetah at full sprint on the open grasslands of East Africa is so spectacular, so utterly breathtaking, that it is not hard to imagine it exceeds 68 mph (110 km/h). I think that, one day, a clever researcher with persistence and the right tech will reveal what the magnificent cheetah is actually capable of.


, South Africa Map It

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12 comments

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P Miller
November 7, 2020 at 9:52 am

Utterly fascinating! My dream trip has always been Africa. God willing❣️

Bill
November 7, 2020 at 11:10 am

Not to be disputatious, but why is measuring the fastest speed attainable by a cheetah of importance? It is fast enough for them to catch their prey, so it’s fast enough for them. Is there a class of zoological trivia?

    AbbyandSadiesMom
    November 7, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    Bill, how about for science? It’s got nothing to do with trivia unless you’re one of those who swill on beers in a bar somewhere.

    Vinod Kumar damodar
    November 8, 2020 at 10:02 pm

    Every study is having its importance for the person studying it

Luther N Mason
November 7, 2020 at 12:18 pm

I love to preserve every animal on the planet to learn their origin, lifespan, their needs, how they came-to-be and mainly their impact on life if it weren’t for them. Then, I look at the destruction of cases reach near extinction of animals I never thought existed? In short, “Man” leaves his careless irreversible blue-print everywhere he has been, and mostly for profit and Not science. Yes, animal fascinated me, I wish I could hear what they’re saying at times. Crazy Huh?

Keith Bates
November 7, 2020 at 12:38 pm

Great story. Seen a lot of Cheetahs throughout Kenya and Tanzania. Love’m. Great cats. Got a beautiful large wood carving of one on my bookcase.

Carleen
November 7, 2020 at 4:02 pm

Luv celebrating the magnificence of every creature..wow!!!

T Tetzlaff
November 7, 2020 at 4:22 pm

A great reminder of the science already done and what still remains on even the most common of questions.

Eva Dyan, M.A.
November 7, 2020 at 5:28 pm

More is understood about these cats than ever before because more humans care about their survival. Humans have in history destroyed their lives by killing them for their skins…With hope, this will be eliminated in the minds of our species for the future. “Because one is not in our image, does not give us the right to cause them suffering and take their lives”, E. Dyan

andrea alampi
November 8, 2020 at 5:36 pm

Always enjoy seeing the cheetah at the Bronx Zoo

Gaye A Thompson
November 9, 2020 at 1:49 pm

I LOVE all big cats, they fascinate me! The Cheetah is amazing!

Natalia K.
November 14, 2020 at 9:24 pm

The movement of all animals is fascinatingly wonderful,whether it be the cheetah’s speed, a sloths slow motion to ants scurry or sealife. The world is definitely a more magnificant place with them.