A new research study has revealed that the cheetah, 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 study, which has just been published in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters was carried out by a team of researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, in collaboration with other institutions in the UK (University of Aberdeen, University of Swansea, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, University of Oxford), and elsewhere (North Carolina State University, The Lewis Foundation, South African National Parks, Earth and OCEAN Technologies, Kiel, Germany). The research team used GPS and accelerometer data loggers deployed on cheetahs, along with traditional observation methods. The study was funded by a Royal Society International Joint Project grant, a NERC New Investigator award and the Lewis Foundation. Explaining the team’s findings, lead researcher Dr Michael Scantlebury, from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “The more we understand about the physiology and the hunting tactics of this charismatic animal, the more we are able to ensure its continuing existence. Our study found that whilst 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.
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