While the big cats surely would've enjoyed taking in a horse race, cheetah brothers Kito and Kiburi were all business as they chased a toy duck across the raceway lawn.
"Cheetahs are the fastest land mammal. They can go up to 65 miles an hour."
"Cheetahs are the fastest land mammal. They can go up to 65 miles an hour," zoo curator Beth Schaefer said in a video (see below).
According to the Houston Zoo, it takes the cheetahs only three seconds to reach 60 miles an hour. As such, clever zoo staffers adapted a lawnmower engine to create a specially-designed machine that quickly drags a stuffed toy lure 600 feet — the distance needed for the animals to run their fastest.
"There are a lot of studies starting to show that cheetahs need to get up to these speeds in order to be healthy. They have to burn off certain metabolic components. So even though it's really fun for us to be out here watching them, it's more for them to have those psychological and physiological needs met."
Also tagging along for the afternoon run at the track was Taji, a female Anatolian shepherd who was raised with the big cat brothers and lives alongside them in her own "bedroom" at the cheetah house.
Domesticated dogs like Taji have been used for decades in Africa to help herd cheetahs away from known hunting areas and, in recent years, have been introduced to zoo environments as supplemental cheetah assistants.
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