“Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Fastest of them All?"
Cheetah cub Sabi stamping to get cows running
(Tao and Sean Varty have had the privilege of raising both cheetah and tiger cubs and watching both tigers and lions hunt. In this article they compare the speed of the great cats and ask the question “which is the fastest of the big cats?”)
We are hunting with two male cheetah, Sabi and Rundi. Surprisingly the cubs, just 4 months old, stalk a herd of Nguni cattle! By stamping their front paws on the ground the cubs get the cattle to turn and run. Now the cheetah are in their element. The prey is running away and they can use their incredible speed to overtake and trip the prey.
But the cows get tired of running and turn on us and the cubs. As we run away the cheetah overtake us easily and within seconds are out of sight.
Cows turn on us and the cubs
Cheetah cub overtakes Sean easily while fleeing
Tao Varty can run 100m at 13.6 seconds, we
estimate Rundi can run at twice that speed
The cheetah when it's running, spends the
majority of the time in the air
We can run the 100m in 13.6 seconds and we estimate the cubs were running at twice our speed. Our guess is that the 4 month old cheetah cubs could do the 100m in 6.8 seconds. This is faster than Usain Bolt whose fastest speed is 38.18 km/h. Bolt has run the 100m in 9.58 seconds at an average speed of 37.58 km/h or 23.35 miles/h.
Usian Bolt's fastest speed is 38.18 km/h
Our Dad, JV and Warren Samuels filmed a female cheetah in the Masai Mara which hunted a gazelle down over a distance of 300m. The cheetah ran between two big rocks and JV was able to measure the distance between the rocks and then using the camera speed he worked out that the cheetah was running at 88 km/h (55 miles/h). The reference books give the cheetah’s top speed at 112 km/hour (70 miles/h).
Cheetah has been clocked at top speed of 112
We decided to test Sabi and Rundi’s speed against a horse. We galloped the horse past the cubs and at top speed the cubs overtook the horse easily. A race horse can run at 76 km/h (47.5 miles/h). We estimate that this horse was galloping at 60 km/h. The cheetah cubs easily outran the horse.
The cheetah cubs easily outruns a horse which we
estimate was doing 60 km/h
Tigress shadow chases a blesbuck which is
capable of 70 km/h
Lion running at 60 km/h pursuing zebra which are
capable of running at 55 km/h maximum speed
Cameraman Warren Samuels filmed a lioness outrunning a fully grown zebra stallion galloping at top speed in the Masai Mara. If the top speed of the zebra is 55 km/h (34 miles/h). Then the lioness was going at 60 km/h (37 miles/h). At this pace she could do the 100m in 6 seconds. This puts the lioness at second fastest big cat to the cheetah
JV, filmed tigress Julie running down an ostrich over 300m. Watching the high speed footage of the hunt, the tigress looks just like a cheetah hunting…..the long flexible spine gives the tigress an amazingly long stride. It looks like she is in the air most of the time like a hunting cheetah. The tigress’s tail counterbalances her as she turns.
Perhaps before they were forced into dense forested areas, the tiger may have run down prey on the Asian plains.
Reference books say that the leg ratio of the lion to that of the cheetah is shorter at 98.3cm to the cheetah at 101.3, but longer than a tiger at 89.8. Therefore a lion is faster across 100 meters than a tiger but not as fast as a cheetah.
In our experiment at Tiger Canyons we find the cheetah to be the fastest of the cats, the lion second and the tiger third.
It has been said that a cheetah running at top speed is like poetry in motion. Hopefully Sabi and Rundi are the first of many wild cheetah to return to the Free State where we will be able to see them stalking, running and catching their prey.
lightly on the earth
Tao and Sean Varty
National Geographic Magazine November 2012:
Everything about a cheetah is designed for speed—pure, raw, explosive speed. Put a cheetah and a Lamborghini side by side on a freeway, and it will be an even-money bet which will smash the speed limit first. Both can do zero to 60 in under three seconds, but the cheetah can crack 45 miles an hour in the first couple of strides. And what strides. Thanks to its flexible spine and long, fluid legs, a cheetah can gobble up turf in bounds that exceed 25 feet. An elite human athlete who could leap that far even once, after a good run, would be well on his or her way to qualifying for the Olympic Games. A cheetah sprinting at top speed might be doing that up to four times a second.
Balance: cheetah turns quickly aided by tail that acts like rudder
Legs: long, slender bones
increase stride yet can take high speed
impact. The way muscle connects to bone at
each joint lets the cat quickly kick into
Chase: top speed reached in 3 sec can be sustained 300-450 yards - have to rest 15 minutes
Front legs: upper leg muscles attach to shoulder blades in way that lengthens stride. Muscle, not collarbone, links shoulder blades, enhancing flexibility. Claws never fully retracted, dig in for traction
Oxygen delivery: oversize lungs and large heart take in and distribute the enormous amounts of oxygen to fuel top speed
Maximum air intake: large sinuses and nasal passages fill much of skull. Trade-off: smaller jaws and teeth. Cheetah kills with suffocating throat hold rather than a spine-severing bite.
Propulsive spine: strongly-muscled and hyper flexible spine helps a galloping cheetah reach strides that can surpass 25feet. For half that length, the cat is airborne.