Blistering speed—that’s what cheetahs are known for. They are the fastest land animal, after all. Sixty-five per hour is pretty impressive, right? It’s as fast as you can legally drive on most east coast highways.
The truly impressive number, however, is much smaller: 2.8. That’s right: cheetahs can go from zero to sixty miles per hour in just 2.8 seconds. Can your father’s Mustang do that? Didn’t think so. But just like any muscle car, cheetahs are built for speed, with features including:
a sleek body
a very flexible spine
a heavy tail used as a counter-balance when making turns at high speed
black “tear stains” under their eyes to cut sun glare
semi-retractile claws that act as cleats to dig in and improve traction and acceleration
And they have to move fast, too. Why? Because their favorite food happens to be the second fastest land animal: the Thompson’s gazelle.
Here at the zoo, however, cheetahs do not need their super speed to get dinner. Our three cheetah girls—Nyika, Kira, and Kashi—each get roughly three pounds of meat each day. That might not sound like much, but considering these girls are roughly 100 pounds each and they are getting the equivalent of 12 quarter pound hamburgers a day, I’d say that’s pretty impressive. Most of the time, they do what all cats excel at: relaxing. They can be seen year round and are very happy to be outside even on the coldest of days.
You can find Kira, Kashi, and Nyika at the south end of the zoo.
By Ken Pelletier, Cheetah Run Lead Keeper