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Cincinnati Zoo's cheetah looks to set new land speed record for mammals

July 23, 2009 | 11:48 pm

Cheetah

The Cincinnati Zoo announced this week that one of its resident cheetahs, an 8-year-old female named Sarah, will participate in an attempt to set a new land speed record for mammals.  Sarah will vie for the record with another 8-year-old female cheetah named Nkosazana (which means "Princess" in Xhosa, one of South Africa's official languages) from a South African organization called Cheetah Outreach.

The two cheetahs won't face off in a head-to-head race; instead, each will make three timed 100-meter dashes on an enclosed course in her home country.  Nkosazana (or Zaza for short) will run first; her attempt at record-breaking will be held Aug. 15.  A little less than a month later, on Sept. 9, Sarah will travel to the Kentucky Speedway near Sparta, Ky., where Cincinnati Zoo staff hope she'll be able to beat the time set by Zaza.  

The record-breaking attempts aren't just for fun, zoo officials said -- they're intended to raise awareness about the plight of wild cheetahs.  "It's to make people look at (the cheetah) in awe and say, we must not lose this glorious animal,"  zoo staffer Cathryn Hilker told the Cincinnati Enquirer.  The species is endangered, and it's believed that 12,000 or fewer remain in the wild in Africa.

Of course, cheetahs' speed is legendary (they can reach 60 mph from a dead stop in three seconds).  But in addition to their remarkable running ability, they are also notable for their exceptional eyesight.  

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Sarah the cheetah runs in the Cincinnati Zoo's Cheetah Encounter exhibit.  Credit: Ernest Coleman / Associated Press

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