Photo Courtesy of wwarby
Sarah the cheetah recently broke world records when she sprinted the 100 meter dash in just 5.95 seconds, effectively making Usain Bolt’s world record of 9.58 seconds seem like your everyday stroll in the park. The 11 year-old cheetah was radar-timed running up to 98 km/h at the Cincinnati Zoo, America, where she ran on a USA Track & Field-certified course. Sarah’s sprint was the fasted timed 100 meter dash ever run by any living creature on our planet.
Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are built for speed, with the ability to accelerate from 0 to over 100 km/h in just three seconds. Virtually every part of their body is chiselled for optimum swiftness; cheetahs have special paw pads and semi-retractable claws to provide greater traction, large nostrils and lungs to provide quick air intake, a large liver, heart and adrenals to facilitate a rapid physical response. Their bodies are streamlined and their bones are light, with a tail that acts as a rudder for quick turning. Yet such speed is incredibly taxing physiologically. The top speed ever recorded, 114 km/h, can only be maintained for about 270 meters, after which the cheetah’s body temperature rapidly increases and it is forced to rest.
The cheetahs at Cincinnati Zoo are used to long sprits, running regularly for zoo crowds eager to witness one of nature’s most adrenaline-charged spectacles. These sprints give the cats an opportunity for much-needed exercise, but they are also important for cheetah conservation. Over the years, the zoo’s cheetahs have helped raise over a million U.S. dollars for cheetah conservation. Cheetahs are classed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List. Known cheetah populations reach only about 7,500 individuals, but the population is in decline due primarily to habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as the killing and capture of cheetahs as livestock depredators and for trade.
While Sarah’s 100 meter dash record was astonishingly fast, it is almost certain that cheetahs in the wild - lean, hungry and hunting for survival – have run even faster. Frontier hosts a number of wildlife conservation projects including the Namibia Cheetah and Environmental Conservation Project where volunteers can help out with the conservation of this majestic species.
By Lea Fraenkl