They Run Like the Wind…Cheetah


There are many glorious sights on the Serengeti, but nothing is as exhilarating as watching a cheetah in pursuit of its prey.


The cheetah’s body is built for aerodynamic speed:  light bones, long, thin legs, short neck, enlarged heart, lungs, and nostrils, and more.  Clocked as the fastest land animal, they can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour (112 kph). They can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds.


Acinonyx jubatus pursue many different kinds of prey, depending on where they live. The cheetahs featured here are residents of the Serengeti, and gazelles are their prey of choice.

Cheetah with Thomson’s Gazelle


Cheetah on kopje (boulder)


Wikipedia Cheetah


Cheetahs hunting, Serengeti

In hunting, cheetah use their sense of vision rather than smell. They possess a  concentrated band of nerve cells in the center of their eyes, enhancing the visual sharpness, like binoculars. Of all the felids, this visual band is the most concentrated and efficient in the cheetah.




The cat begins stalking within 330 to 980 feet (100-300m) of prey. They prefer some kind of earthly cover–trees or tall grass–giving them a chance to stay hidden and  unseen. If there is no cover, they slowly, patiently, and methodically inch closer. Their camouflage in the tall, golden grass is an asset.


When the prey is within reach, the cheetah starts galloping. If the herd has not yet become aware, the cheetah has won an extra moment.


Within seconds, the herd of gazelles bolts and scatters. At this point the cheetah sprints, never faltering, with an individual in its crosshairs.


Cheetah jaws on gazelle neck


You might think at this point, that the gazelle is going to lose, because the cheetah’s extraordinary swiftness and prowess are unmatchable.


With that lanky, light body stretched out completely, and limbs of pure muscle, the cheetah achieves moments of being airborne. Ears pressed back, face set in dogged determination…they run like the wind.


But this bodily expenditure is of great cost to a cheetah, and can only be achieved in short bursts.


A gazelle may not have the speed of a cheetah, but they are a swift and nimble creature. The gazelle being chased can turn sharply, running in a zig-zag line…something the cat cannot do at high speed.


If the gazelle can continue to run this jagged path for about a minute, the cat runs out of steam, slows down, and the chase is aborted.


Click here for a National Geographic slow motion video — Cheetah running at top speed


While I love watching the cheetah fly across the landscape in deadly pursuit, I must confess I am always relieved when the gazelle escapes.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander. All in Tanzania.





58 thoughts on “They Run Like the Wind…Cheetah

    • Thank you, Hien; I appreciate your comments and observations. I like the photos better too, but those cheetahs are sooooo fast that capturing that bit of sprinting cheetah magic requires the professionals of National Geographic.

  1. And for this reason one shall never step out of the safari vehicle! As always Jet I come away with new knowledge for a future win at a trivia game. I had no idea about the super power eyesight of the Cheetah let alone the frightening velocity at which they can run. Yes firmly planted in my seat behind the guide.

  2. Truly magnificent creatures Jet and wonderful photos. I was being amazed by my sisters lurchers running recently but they only reach 45 mph. I cannot imaging what it is like to watch a cheetah going full speed. The video is great and very good at showing how the cheetah moves but doesn’t show the speed of it.

    • Yes, I agree, Alastair, the video displays the cheetah’s prowess in slow motion, but not the speed. I found a few You Tubes but nothing impressive. It is really hard to capture that animal at full speed and come away with anything viewable — it’s all over in a flash. I’m glad you stopped by, my friend, and fun to know you enjoyed the cheetah pursuit. Take care–

    • Hi Alastair, for some reason I am having difficulty leaving a comment on your recent post. Typed it 3 times and it never stuck. So here it is:
      I so enjoyed this walk through St. James Park, Alastair. Love that first photo with the wavering blue fence reflection, and enjoyed all the scenery here, and the soundscape too. Waterfowl you asked for identification, what you labelled #11, is called the red-breasted goose. A beauty.

    • Yes, montucky, I am certain this is something you would love seeing. We saved up two years for that trip. No time like the present to start this dream. Always a pleasure to “see” you, thank you.

  3. To see cheetahs in pursuit would be amazing to witness. Lol, the only cheetahs I saw whilst in the Serengeti were languishing up in a tree, but hey, I saw a cheetah! Have yourselves a wonderful weekend.😊

  4. Great post. And I LOVED the video of the cheetah in action! What a beautiful running machine. I love seeing how each part of its body works together for that incredible speed. (But I, too, can’t help hoping that the gazelles get away… most of the time.)

  5. Great write up and photos of this tremendously powerful animal. I sure wouldn’t want her chasing me but I know what you mean about the gazelle!

  6. The slow motion video of the cheetah running was mesmerizing. Sad to think of them struggling with loss of habitat or other problems with only 10% young surviving. I’ll try not to think of the gazelle ’cause them cheetah babies need to eat, too!

    • Yes, you’re right, Gunta, the balance of the big picture is what is called for. And I agree, the video is mesmerizing. I’ve been out on the Serengeti when large photography and videography crews were there, it is quite a scene. Mostly the BBC. In the film it looks like it’s just the animal being photographed and so solitary. But oh my goodness, there are so many people, usually a fairly large crew filling one or two vans, and so much equipment, tens of thousands of dollars worth…and all the crew members are scrambling to get the action; and often they are waiting, waiting, waiting for that opportunity when the animal decides to strike. The end product is impressive, but watching them work on the project is interesting too. Thought you would find it interesting too. My warmest thanks, Gunta.

      • Of course seeing it in real life would be an entirely different matter, but did you watch clear to the end of the video where they do show crew and equipment at work. It’s a bit mind boggling. Thanks to you and Athena for bringing this great stuff to our attention! Happy December, too!

  7. The big cats are beautiful, amazing creatures. These remarkable photos and your own account, from first-hand experience, bring to mind the wonder of a predator-prey relationship, perfect from the stand-point of our natural world. Thanks so much for sharing this!

    • You bring up an excellent point, Walt. We have limited experiences anymore on this earth to see the natural predator-prey relationships of big cats. The Serengeti is booming with it. Tanzania is my favorite place in the world to visit for this reason, as well as the utter beauty and expansiveness. Really appreciated your wonderful words today, thank you.

    • Love hearing about your “inner Attenborough,” RH. Gave me a fun chuckle. Sir David is one of my heroes, so it’s a joy to see his honored presence come up in connection to the Cheetah post. Many thanks, RH.

  8. I love the Cheetah…one of my favourites. many moon ago when I was known as a wild life painter in the States, I made many large paintings of these beautiful creatures. However, I have never seen one in its natural habitat….maybe one day. Thank you, Jet for another superb post. Janet.

    • Lovely to receive your visits, Janet, thank you. I have never seen your paintings from that era, I can imagine your cheetah art is fantastic. And what a joy to share the cheetahs here from their natural habitat. Their robustness and magnificence come alive in the wild so wonderfully. Thanks so much for your visits, Janet.

    • You name many of the difficulties in keeping the cheetah population thriving, Inese, but fortunately there have been numerous organizations and countless individuals who have been successful so far. Thank you, my friend.

      • I totally understand where that is coming from… I love animals with all my heart and I would like to protect them all I can…but a lot of people who are not aware of the atrocities committed to animals become a part of it unknowingly…that’s why i said ethical animal tourism can help save wildlife…and the organisation with which i went took every care of these majestic cats…including the petting activities:)

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