Fastest land animals

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What is the fastest land animal?

Here is a list of the ten fastest land animals in the world — and there are a few surprises. Most people know that the cheetah is the quickest land animal in the world, but although horses may appear to run extremely fast at the races they are not even one of the top ten. Kangaroos get around by hopping — but who would have thought they could go faster than our hay-eating friends, achieving an amazing 44mph at top speed. The only domestic animal that makes the list is the greyhound, with all the others living in the wild. And from the speeds they achieve, you can understand why they would want to be allowed to run free.

10 Kangaroo

Top speed: 44mph

Kangaroo, one of the fastest land animals

Kangaroos are faster than you would think by looking at them

The kangaroo is native to Australia and New Guinea in the South Pacific and its symbol appears on the Australian coat of arms.  Kangaroos get their speed from their powerful hind legs, while their large feet help them leap and their long, muscular tails give them balance. Kangaroos in the wild often find themselves in danger from both farmers, who shoot them to protect grazing land for their sheep and cattle, and poachers who shoot them for their meat and leather hide.

Kangaroos’ stomachs are chambered like sheep and cattle which allows them to regurgitate the vegetation they eat and their diet is mainly grass. Their main predators — other than poachers — are foxes, feral cats, dogs and dingos. But they are intelligent animals and they will try to lead predators towards water as they are goods swimmers and will often attempt to drown their attacker by holding them down with their front paws.

9 African Wild Dog

Top speed: 44mph

African Wild Dogs, one of the fastest animals on land

African Wild Dogs are among the fastest land animals. Pic credit: I Love Trees CC BY 2.0

These dogs are an endangered species and roam the plains and woodlands in sub-Saharan Africa. Because of their unique coloring they are also known as Painted dogs or Cape Hunting Dogs. Their mottled coats comprise of red, black, brown, white and yellow fur and unlike any other dogs they only have four toes on each feet. They live in packs and they forage for food, supplementing their diet by eating birds and rodents. The greatest danger for wild dogs comes from farmers who hunt them down and kill them because they are worried they will kill their domestic livestock.

8 Jackrabbit

Top speed: 45mph

Jackrabbit, one of the world's fastest animals

Jackrabbits are sought-after prey. Pic credit: Michael Dorausch CC BY-SA 2.0

The black-tailed jackrabbit is one of the strangest looking animals around, growing to about two feet long and with enormous ears. Also called the American Desert Hare they are found in the western part of the USA and in Mexico. They like to inhabit mixed shrubland and grassland high above sea level, sometimes at altitudes as high as 10,000 feet. Jackrabbits eat mainly shrubs, small trees and grasses although shrubs are their main diet in autumn and winter. They are in constant danger from raptors and carnivorous animals as they make sought-after prey for eagles, hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes and wild cats.

7 Greyhound

Top speed: 46mph

Greyhounds, the fastest domesticated animals

Greyhounds are used for racing, but also make lovely pets. Pic credit: Inf-Lite Teacher CC BY 2.0

The only domestic animal on the list, greyhounds are used for dog racing and retired racers make excellent pets as they are very affectionate and make loyal companions. They are a very old European breed that were developed specifically for coursing and greyhound racing. When they are racing they can reach their top speed within 30 meters of leaving the trap, which is about six strides, and they run at nearly 20 meters per second for the first 25 meters of the race. Many greyhound rescue centers have been set up to protect them from unscrupulous owners who discard them when they are no longer fit to race.

6 Lion

Top speed: 50mph

Lion, one of the fastest land animals

Lions are surprisingly fast for their size

For one of the fastest animals in the world, the lion is also one of the laziest creatures — sleeping for about 20 hours a day, mostly while the sun is out as they are nocturnal animals. Male lions with their shaggy manes have a reputation for being some of the proudest animals — and they will send female lionesses out to search for prey while they wait for them to return with the food. They will then spend around 50 minutes eating whatever the female members of their pride have caught. This can be any large mammal including wildebeest, zebras, buffalo, and warthogs. Lions can be found in both sub-Saharan Africa and Asia and mainly live on savanna grassland, but sometimes venture into the bush and forests and . They have been known to attack domestic livestock, especially in India.

5 Blackbuck

Top speed: 50mph

Blackbucks are some of the quickest animals

A male and female Blackbuck, one of the quickest species around. Pic credit: Sankara Subramanian CC BY 2.0

The Blackbuck is probably the least known of the fastest animals in the world. It is the only living species of genus Antilope (not to be confused with antelope) and they live in herds on open land in the Indian subcontinent. They avoid forests and as they need to drink water every day they sometimes travel miles to find it. They eat mostly grasses but they forage in the summer months. Blackbuck are classed as an endangered species, although there are still a lot found in India even though they went through a decline several decades ago. They are a target for poachers and their main predators are wolves, whilst jackals will also go after the fawns.

4 Wildebeest

Top speed: 50mph

Wildebeest, one of the quickest land animals

Wildebeest crossing a river during the great migration. Pic credit: Thomson Safaris CC BY 2.0

The Wildebeest is also known as the Gnu and despite its speed it is one of the most ungainly animals, with a menacing appearance. They come from Central, Southern and East Africa and are a familiar sight to those on safari in places like the Masai Mara and Serengeti in Kenya and Tanzania. Wildebeest are herd animals and live on the grassy plains and open woodlands. They graze constantly both day and night but they always have to be on their guard as they provide a great source of food for many of the predators in the African savanna, mostly lions, cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas.

3 Springbok

Top speed: 55mph

Springbok, one of the fastest land animals

Springboks are fast runners and can also leap 14ft into the air

The Springbok is the national symbol of South Africa and their famous rugby team — the Springboks — has also adopted their name. They live in the south-western part of the country and like dry inland areas, living in grasslands and open shrub lands. They are a cross between a gazelle and an antelope and not only are they very fast they can also leap 13ft in the air. They eat grass when it is fresh and at other times shrubs and succulents. They never need to find water holes to drink as they quench their thirsts off dew on flowers and leaves of shrubs at dawn. They are at their most active at both dawn and dusk. The biggest danger to springboks are leopards, cheetahs and hyenas who hunt them to eat.

2 Pronghorn Antelope

Top speed: 55mph

Pronghorn Antelope, fastest animal in North America

The Pronghorn Antelope, which is unique to North America. Pic credit: gambier20 CC BY 2.0

Although the Pronghorn is called an antelope they are also related to the goat family and they have a body like a deer with long legs, a short tail and a long snout. They are unique to North America and although they are not as fast as the cheetah they can run for longer and are more comparable to marathon runners. Females only have small bumps for horns but the male horns grow to 10-12 inches and point backwards. They eat grasses, sage bush and other prairie plants and, like springboks, seldom drink water as their moisture comes from the plants they eat.

1 Cheetah

Top speed: 75mph

The cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world

The cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world

The cheetah is one of the most elegant animals in the world and is the fastest land mammal. It is found in Africa and in some parts of the Middle East. It uses its speed to chase prey, and survives mostly on antelopes and hares — although they will attack larger mammals as well.

The cheetah has exceptional eyesight and will lie in the long grass waiting till it spies what it wants to catch — before pouncing at top speed. They can go from 0-60mph in just three seconds and can turn very sharply. Despite the exertion caused by their speed, cheetahs only have to drink once every three to four days.

Watch a Cheetah Hunt