Cheetahs’ secret weapon: a tight turning radius

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Sat, 2013-06-15 11:26 by Hans

By KATIE HILER

Read the complete article in the New York Times

Anyone who has watched a cheetah run down an antelope knows that these cats are impressively fast. But it turns out that speed is not the secret to their prodigious hunting skills: a novel study of how cheetahs chase prey in the wild shows that it is their agility — their skill at leaping sideways, changing directions abruptly and slowing down quickly — that gives those antelope such bad odds.

“Cheetahs don’t actually go very fast when they’re hunting,” said Alan M. Wilson, a professor at the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London who studied cheetahs in Botswana and published a paper about them on Wednesday in the journal Nature. “The hunt is much more about maneuvering, about acceleration, about ducking and diving to capture the prey.”

Until now researchers had been able to gather data on the hunting habits of cheetahs only by studying the animals in captivity, or from direct — though relatively imprecise — observations of their movements in the wild. But Dr. Wilson and his team spent nearly 10 years designing and building a battery-powered, solar-charged tracking collar, one that uses an accelerometer, a gyroscope and GPS technology to monitor the animal’s movements.

They attached these collars to five cheetahs in the Okavango Delta region and observed 367 of their hunting runs over six to nine months. …

Read the complete article in the New York Times