Cheetahs balance ‘turn capacity’ with pace when chasing prey

23 August 2023 -
Los guepardos (Acinonyx jubatus): nivelación de su capacidad para girar en la persecución de sus presas

Scientific comprehension of the strategies predators adopt when pursuing prey is still very limited. Technological advances have allowed the development of various sensors that can measure movement and collect data to document hunting strategies.

In this study, the data collected from the cheetahs’, Acinonyx jubatus, movement was used to study their hunting strategies. Cheetahs are both physiologically and anatomically adapted to outrun their prey easily and generally only fail a chase when exhausted or overheating. Preys have developed escape tactics, in this case, using directional changes and making it extremely difficult for the cheetah to maintain speed. Tight turns have high energetic demands and exert extreme forces on limbs and muscles.

Six free-ranging cheetahs were deployed with accelerometers and GPS machines to register their movements and speed when chasing different preys. Speed, position and acceleration estimates were obtained using this method and records were made on a total of 124h. The slowest chase recorded lasted 59s.

The results of this study were in accordance with previous literature, but the speeds and acceleration values were impressive. We can conclude that the belief that the cheetah hunt consists of a simple high-speed chase is a complete oversimplification of what actually happens. The chase can be divided in two phases: initial acceleration and catch up with the prey; and prey-specific slowing down period. This last part will enable the cheetah to adapt to the specific turns the prey is making. Because of the energy demand necessary to make tight turns at very high speeds this is not a phenomenon common in nature, we can say that the maximum speed will be limited by turning capability.

We can conclude that a cheetah’s chase is a lot more complex than just speed, which is only a part of the cheetah’s tactic, there is also a need to slow down and adapt to the prey’s turns.

Wilson, J. W. et al (2013)Cheetahs, Acinonyx jubatus, balance turn capacity with pace when chasing prey’. Biology Letters, 9 (5)