The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

February 13, 2013

Dogs cross species barrier, help cheetahs survive

(Continued)

One of the most popular draws at Safari Park is the 100-meter cheetah run where the public gets to see firsthand the speed of "nature's perfect sprinter."

"Speed is incredibly important. It is their survival technique, in a nutshell," Rose-Hinostroza said. "If they can't run, they won't survive. They are not equipped to be confrontational."

A cheetah's claws don't retract, so they have footing that takes them from "zero to 60 in 3.4 seconds," she said.

"That's faster than every single car on the market, and it only takes three steps," Rose-Hinostroza said.

Cheetahs use their tails like a rotor to balance while they are running. Their top speed is 60 to 70 mph, based on size, but they can run that fast only for 20 or 30 seconds. Extending that to a minute or more puts the animal in serious jeopardy of death.

"Overexertion, heat exhaustion can literally cook their organs at that speed," Rose-Hinostroza said. She added the average cheetah chase in the wild is 200 to 300 meters.

Safari Park's cheetahs chase a lure for 100 meters, a sprint that seldom exceeds 6 seconds.

A century ago there were 100,000 cheetahs in the wild, Grisham said. Today there are fewer than 12,000. The species has become extinct in at least 13 countries. There are about 280 captive cheetahs in zoos across the United States.

As captive efforts to save the species continue, Grisham worries there is no wild to send them home to because habitat is being swallowed up by developers and poachers are killing the cats for their fur.

Cheetahs live 12 to 15 years in captivity. Males weigh 120 to 150 pounds, and females 100 to 120 pounds.

The dogs come in all sizes. At Safari Park, the smallest and sweetest is Hopper, a male mutt who weighs 40 pounds. He's teamed with Amara, the toughest female cheetah on the team, Rose-Hinostroza said.

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