Washington: A new study has revealed that the cheetah, which is the world`s fastest land animal, matches and may even anticipate the escape tactics of different prey when hunting, rather than just relying on its speed and agility, as previously thought.
The research team used GPS and accelerometer data loggers deployed on cheetahs, along with traditional observation methods.
Explaining the team`s findings, lead researcher Dr Michael Scantlebury, from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen`s University Belfast, said: "The more we understand, about the physiology and the hunting tactics of this charismatic animal, the more we are able to ensure its continuing existence".
"Our study found that whilst cheetahs are capable of running at exceptionally high speeds, the common adage that they simply `outrun` their prey does not explain how they are able to capture more agile animals. Previous research has highlighted their incredible speed and acceleration and their ability to turn after escaping prey. We have now shown that hunt tactics are prey-specific.
"In other words, we now know that rather than a simple maximum speed chase, cheetahs first accelerate towards their quarry before slowing down to mirror prey-specific escaping tactics. We suggest that cheetahs modulate their hunting speed to enable rapid turns, in a predator-prey arms race, where pace is pitted against agility. Basically, cheetahs have clear different chase strategies depending on prey species," he said.
The research suggests that cheetah chases comprise two primary phases, the first an initial rapid acceleration resulting in high speed to quickly catch up with prey, followed by a second, which is a prey-specific slowing period, five to eight seconds before the end of the chase, that enables the cheetah to match turns instigated by prey as the distance between them closes.
"We have discovered that cheetahs first accelerate rapidly to get them close to the prey but then have to actively slow down to be able to match prey escape manoeuvres. It is like a deadly tango between the hunter and the hunted, with one mirroring the escape tactics of the other," he added.
The study is published in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters.