Wednesday, January 28, 2015

#Cheetahs 'slower than we thought'

Big cats' top speed is actually around 58mph rather than 70mph that has been accepted for decades
  • Myth busted by researchers who attached GPS trackers to big cats
  • They gathered data from 367 hunts and 58mph was the top speed
  • Results will be shown on Sir David Attenborough's new TV series   

Cheat: The cheetah's top speed is only 58mph, research has found - though that's still pretty impressive

‘For more than half a century we have overestimated the cheetah’s speed,’ the veteran presenter said. ‘The cheetah’s legendary top speed of 70mph is just a myth. But their true speed of 58mph is still extraordinary.’

He added that while the cheetah may not be as speedy as previously believed, it still holds its title as the world’s fastest land animal. ‘Its greatest feat is its acceleration,’ he said, ‘[Which is] four times that of sprinter Usain Bolt.’

The presenter – whose broadcasting career began when he joined the BBC in 1952 – shows just how comfortable he is with animals, filming one segment of the documentary next to an affectionate cheetah, which happily purrs and licks his knee.
He explains the new and more accurate speed measurements were taken using high-tech data collection collars.

The more accurate speed measurements were taken using high-tech collars, which used solar batteries and GPS to track the animals’ movements. Researchers collected data from 367 cheetah ‘hunts’ and the top speed reached during any of the chases was just 58 miles per hour. 

The research was developed by scientists at the Royal Veterinary College who honed the technique using greyhounds and lurchers. The dogs are ‘similar in size and shape to a cheetah’ so worked as a good substitution for the more unpredictable wild animals. Both have backs that flex and extend so greatly that at times none of their feet touch the ground.

When researchers were sure the collar was not affecting the movement of the dogs, they tested the technology on wild cheetahs and found that previous estimations had been out by a whopping 12 miles per hour.

The myth that cheetahs could reach 70mph began in 1957 after photographer Kurt Severin conducted a basic experiment using an upturned bicycle and some fishing line to pull along a meat-scented bag. He used a stopwatch and a pistol to record how long it took a cheetah to run 73-metre course. His results – showing cheetahs reaching speeds of 70 miles per hour - were soon accepted as scientific fact. 

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