Sarah, an 11-year-old cheetah at the Cincinnati zoo, set a new world land speed record during a shoot for the National Geographic magazine. Sarah accomplished the world record-breaking sprint on June 20, covering 100 meters in 5.95 seconds.
Sarah's 5.95 seconds performance breaks her previous record set in 2009 when she covered 100 meters in 6.13 seconds. Her 2009 performance broke a record set in 2001 by a male South African cheetah named Nyana.
Live Science reports that Usain Bolt, a Jamaican sprinter, now competing at the 2010 London Olympics, holds the human world record at 9.58 seconds in the 100-meter dash. But Bolt's 9.58 seconds record looks like a sloth's performance in comparison with Sarah's. But of course, the comparison is unfair because nature designs cheetahs for the speeds they achieve.
National Geographic and Cincinnati zoo officials report that on a USA Track and Field-certified course established at the Cincinnati Zoo, the 11-year-old cheetah was radar-timed at top speed of 61 mph (98 km/h).
Sarah's sprint is the fastest ever timed 100 meters run by any animal on the planet. The founder of the Cincinnati Zoo's Cat Ambassador Program Cathryn Hilker, who helped raise Sarah since she was a cub, said it was no surprise that Sarah shattered the existing record. Hilker said: Nobody can run like Sarah. She's special. I always knew she could run under six seconds, but to see it happen like this is wonderful."
Sarah's run was photographed for a November 2010 National Geographic magazine article that will feature high speed photographs and a video of cheetahs in high-speed motion.
National Geographic reports photo editor Kim Hubbard, said: "She looked like a polka-dotted missile. I've never seen anything alive run that fast."
Five cheetahs completed several sprints a day to establish a new sprint record. The cheetahs were made to run out of the back of a van and chase fluffy toy dogs pulled across a meadow on a high speed cord.
Getting the cheetahs to demonstrate their top sprint capability was, however, challenging handlers say. Hilker explains: "They have moods like the rest of us. And like people, some are better athletes than others and keener for the chase."
In the course of the exercises that produced Sarah's winning sprint, the cheetah's completed more than 30 heats with performances ranging from 5.95 seconds for Sarah and 9.97 for a bored and unenthusiastic young male.
Experts say that although Sarah's performance might seem extraordinary when compared to Usain Bolt's, cheetahs in the wild under survival pressure certainly outperform Sarah. Hilker said: "This is just for fun, as far as they're concerned. They know they're going to get fed. They can see the finish line."
National Geographic reports cheetahs are endangered and their global population dropped from 100,000 in 1900 to an estimated 9,000 - 12,000 cheetahs today. The Cincinnati Zoo, dubbed "The Cheetah Capital of the World," has been involved in efforts to conserve the cheetah through education, public interpretation, and the captive cheetah breeding program. According to National Geographic, the Cincinnati Zoo's Regional Cheetah Breeding Center is one of four facilities in the US where 64 cheetah cubs have been raised. The facilities are managed by the Species Survival Plan.
The cheetahs have entertained zoo visitors with long sprints. The Cincinnati zoo's track-star cheetahs have helped raise over a million US dollars for conservation.