New Scientist reports: [edited]
"Everyone thinks cheetahs run at incredibly high top speeds, over 60mph, but these measurements were made with imprecise speedometers," says Alan Wilson of The Royal Veterinary College at the University of London.
In the quest for better data, Wilson designed solar-powered collars with GPS trackers, accelerometers, gyroscopes and other bits of kit to get a snapshot of life on the savannah, and fitted them on three females and two males.
The fastest speed recorded was 58mph, but the team was surprised to find their cheetahs tended to run at a more moderate 34mph. What made them such good hunters was their ability to accelerate up to 3 metres per second and decelerate by 4 mps in a single stride. The muscle power required to generate this acceleration was four times what Usain Bolt used for his 100-metre world record.
"Cheetahs don't run particularly quickly," says Wilson. "Their success is more a matter of the manoeuvering and acceleration." The impala, gazelles and other animals they prey on are agile, and the final moments of a hunt are often played out with an intricate to-and-fro of footwork, rather than a flat-out race.