Arabia's flight shows scientists how fast cats can run
Friday 10 July 2009
They’re the fastest land mammals but why is it cheetahs can reach such high speeds? That’s the question facing scientists from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) who have been at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo watching the fast cats.
Using a lure system – similar to the kind used on greyhound tracks – the scientists recorded female cheetah Arabia as she chased after a piece of chicken as it was pulled at high speed through her paddock.
One of six North African cheetahs at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, on the Cheetah Rock exhibit, Arabia was quick to catch on to the new “toy” and has been enjoying ad hoc games of chase, watched closely by the scientists.
But whilst the activity provides good enrichment and sprinting fun for the cheetah, there is a serious side to the project.
Professor Alan Wilson from the RVC is studying why animals, such as greyhounds, race horse and cheetah, can run so fast so that the information can be used to understand more about limb injuries in both animals and humans.
Speaking about the project, which is funded by BBSRC, Professor Wilson said: “Cheetahs are fascinating because they are 50% faster than a racing greyhound or race horse, which are bred for high speed locomotion.
“We don’t know why the cheetah is so much faster – is it just a little bit better in every way or does it have fundamental differences in the way it runs that means it is so much quicker?”
The speed of the cheetah is recorded on high speed cameras on either side of the paddock to monitor both views of the cheetah and also using plates dug into the ground which the cheetah crosses as she runs.
Penny Hudson, an RVC PhD student also working on the study, said: “The plates are like sophisticated Wii Fit boards and they measure all the forces the animal is applying to the ground.”
Arabia is two years old and is one of a group of three females and three male cheetahs at Whipsnade.
“It was quite a nice way of giving her enrichment, it’s all a big game to her and she loved it,” said Penny.
The study is still ongoing and this is the first phase. The scientists are hoping to record more cheetah data both at the Zoo and in the wild.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is very pleased to be taking part in such a worthwhile study, which provided good activity for the animals as well as enabling important data to be collected.