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Locomotion dynamics of hunting in wild cheetahs

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Abstract

Although the cheetah is recognised as the fastest land animal, little is known about other aspects of its notable athleticism, particularly when hunting in the wild. Here we describe and use a new tracking collar of our own design, containing a combination of Global Positioning System (GPS) and inertial measurement units, to capture the locomotor dynamics and outcome of 367 predominantly hunting runs of five wild cheetahs in Botswana. A remarkable top speed of 25.9 m s−1 (58 m.p.h. or 93 km h−1) was recorded, but most cheetah hunts involved only moderate speeds. We recorded some of the highest measured values for lateral and forward acceleration, deceleration and body-mass-specific power for any terrestrial mammal. To our knowledge, this is the first detailed locomotor information on the hunting dynamics of a large cursorial predator in its natural habitat.

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Figure 1: Cheetah with collar and anatomical features contributing to performance.
Figure 2: An example day and hunt.
Figure 3: Descriptive hunt statistics.
Figure 4: Performance summary.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Amos and M. Dickson for fabricating collars, and F. Broekhuis, R. Furrer and N. Jordan for working with us in the study area; P. Apps for many discussions; T. Hubel and A. Wills for helping to collect and analyse validation data; P. Apps, J. Usherwood and A. Wilson for comments on the manuscript; and the EPSRC (EP/H013016/1), BBSRC (BB/J018007/1) and DARPA M3 Program (W91CRB-11-C-0048, with Boston Dynamics) for funding. This work was approved by RVC Ethics & Welfare Committee and was carried out under a Botswana Government Research Permit held by J.W.M. and Botswana Veterinary Registration held by A.M.W.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

A.M.W. conceived, designed and led the study, A.M.W. and J.C.L. designed the collars, J.C.L. developed collar hardware and software, K.R. developed GPS–IMU filtering, K.R., P.E.H. and A.M.W. analysed data, A.M.W. wrote the paper with input from all authors, K.A.G. and J.W.M. organized field work, monitored animals and downloaded data. A.M.W. performed veterinary work.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to A. M. Wilson.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Figures 1-7, Supplementary Text and Data and Supplementary Table 1. (PDF 3480 kb)

Supplementary Data

This KML (Google Earth) file contains the GPS positions of the cheetah over an 11 hour period. To view, Google Earth must first be installed from www.google.com/earth/index.html, then double click on the file to open it. To see the cheetah’s movement through time you can slide the bar in the top left. The markers are colour coded by collar state such that Alert:blue, Mooch:green, Ready:yellow, Chase:red. (ZIP 8 kb)

The accelerometer, horizontal speed trace and position profile of a successful hunt.

On the speed plot and hunt profile, warmer colours represent faster speeds. (MOV 421 kb)

Horizontal speed and position profile for 367 runs

This video will not play as a pop-up, in order to view it, please download the video file to your desktop before playing it. Warmer (bright red) colours represent faster speeds, and the arrows on the position plots represent the average horizontal acceleration vector during each stride, with the length indicating the magnitude of the acceleration. (MOV 9857 kb)

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Wilson, A., Lowe, J., Roskilly, K. et al. Locomotion dynamics of hunting in wild cheetahs. Nature 498, 185–189 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12295

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