Speed is defined as the rate at which an object covers a particular distance. This is what speed means to us humans, but in the animal world, it may very well be defined as the rate at which a predator hunts its prey. It is said that a predator that can run faster than its prey, and a prey that can outrun its predator, survives and exists in the wild. For most animals, their quest for survival is heavily dependent on how fast they can run.
As fast as a Ferrari?The Cheetah has the ability to accelerate from 0-62 mph in just under three seconds flat! The 2004 Ferrari Enzo takes about 3.1 seconds to do the same!
Speaking of prey, predator, and hunting in the wild, one can't help but visualize scenes straight from Animal Planet or National Geographic, wherein, a lion is chasing an antelope. For a few moments, it makes our hair stand on end. Now, measuring the top speed of an animal in the wild can be a tricky task, since conditions and situations (lack of flat ground or open space or nabbing the prey) may not require the animal to reach top speed or even run a desired distance. Hence, very few, if any, trials and tests have been conducted on animals in the wild. And most results regarding speed are estimates.
When we talk of speed, in the wild, the black buck, springbok, wildebeest, are all animals that can run extremely fast. But, the fastest living land animal is undoubtedly, the cheetah. It has a recorded top speed of 64.87 mph (mean of three trials over a 201.2 m course, with a running start). The animal that comes closest to this record is the pronghorn, which records a maximum speed of 61 mph. Now, mind you, here, we are talking about sheer speed and not endurance, and hence, some animals on this list, though able to achieve fantastic speeds, may not be able to sustain it for long periods. So, here is the list of the top ten fastest land animals and their top speeds.
Various tests and studies over the years have provided varying results for a cheetah's top speed. In June 2012, Sarah, an 11-year-old female cheetah from the Cincinnati zoo, clocked 61 mph or 98 kmph over a 100-meter distance. According to a study recently published in Nature magazine (June 2013), cheetahs in the wild clocked a top speed of 58 mph or 93 kmph. Now, over a short, flat distance, that is bereft of vegetation, the cheetah can reach speeds of around 70 mph, even though the official record states otherwise.
The semi-retractable claws of the cheetah provide them a tighter grip while running. Also, the cheetah's enlarged nostrils, heart, and lungs, function together to allow increased oxygen intake and its efficient circulation, which aid the cheetah in its high-speed pursuits. The only downside being that the cheetah cannot sustain such speeds for long (only about 500 m), and is known to successfully chase down a prey only 30% of the times.
Coming in at the second position is the pronghorn; it resembles the antelope very closely, and hence, is also known as the prong buck or pronghorn antelope. The pronghorn is considered to be the 'fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere', and can run exceptionally fast. Its top speed has been recorded at about 61 mph. Although it can't run faster than the cheetah, it can, however, maintain its speed for a longer duration, unlike the cheetah that is famed to make short high-speed sprints. The pronghorn is said to have evolved into a swift animal so that it can save itself from its predators.
The slender, long-necked, brown and white antelope-gazelle has been timed at a top speed of 58 mph. The national animal of South Africa, the springbok is light-footed and can easily outrun its predators. The springbok gets its name from the Afrikaans and Dutch words spring (jump) and bok (antelope) respectively. Its ability to leap as high as 3-4 meters in height, also known as pronking, is one of its distinguishing characteristics.
There are two types of wildebeest, the black wildebeest and the blue wildebeest. The most important and striking difference being the orientation of their horns, and the color of their coats. Both the species have been dubbed as extremely fast, endurance runners. The recorded top speed of a wildebeest is 56 mph. The wildebeest is preyed on by cheetahs, lions, hyenas, and even crocodiles. However, the wildebeest, with its speed and strength, can outrun and even scare away its predators.
One of the most familiar gazelles in Eastern Africa, the Thomson's gazelle has been recorded to have achieved a top speed of 53 mph. This small, yet agile, antelope-gazelle can outrun its predators like leopards, hyenas, and lions, by running extremely fast and in a zigzag manner. It's this ability of the gazelle, to run in a zigzag manner, that, more often than not, helps it escape from its predators. Another tactic displayed by the gazelle, in an attempt to ward off or scare away its predators, is the act of pronking or leaping high in the air.
The second-largest living cat (after the tiger), the lion, also known as the king of the jungle, is quite fast considering its size, and can clock a top speed of 50 mph. Usually, these high-speed runs don't last long but rather short outbursts or sprints. Hence, it doesn't warrant a higher place on the list. The lion relies more on ambush, and though it possesses amazing speed, it is known to hunt successfully only 3 times out of 10.
Known for being an excellent sprinter at short distances, the American Quarter Horse actually gets its name from its ability to outrun other horse breeds in races that span quarter miles or less. Its top speed of 47 mph has prompted the nickname 'World's Fastest Athlete'. Its peculiar and compact body structure gives it the ability to sprint, as well as help humans in reining and calf roping.
One of the largest land mammals in North America and Eastern Asia, (not to be confused with the moose), the elk is the largest species of the deer family. The top speed at which an elk can run is recorded to be at 45 mph. Although the first instinct of an elk is to save itself from its predators by using its antlers (and mind you, those antlers are huge), its ability to run as fast comes to its rescue too.
The Cape Hunting Dog or the African Wild Dog or painted dog, is an endangered animal found only in Africa, hence the name, and is the largest African canid. The most striking aspect of this animal is that it hunts in packs of 10-20, couple that with a recorded top speed of 45 mph, and you have one very dangerous animal. Moreover, the wild dog chases its prey in the open and for a long time, eventually tiring out its prey. The wild dog is known to successfully kill 8 out of times it goes to hunt.
Just making it to the list of top ten fastest land animals on Earth is the coyote, also known as the brush wolf, American jackal, or prairie wolf. It runs at a top speed of 43 mph. This canine species is found extensively in North and Central America. The coyote feeds on smaller farm animals like mice, squirrels, and rodents.
Each of the animals in this list are unique, even though it may seem that all rely on speed to survive. But that's the rule of the jungle, and some might argue the human world too, the fittest shall only survive.