If there was a race between all the land mammals in the world, it would be pretty embarrassing for humans (even if we used Usain Bolt). There are some astonishingly fast mammals around the globe, and many of these animals rely on their speed to hunt down their prey whilst some use their speed to evade predators. It can be truly breathtaking to see these animals at full speed, but also quite alarming too. These animals come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes, so we will be looking at their maximum speed to determine the winner.
10. African Wild Dog
African wild dogs are some of the best hunters in the world, and rarely will their prey manage to escape. This is largely due to their speed and ability to maintain it, as they have been known to reach a maximum of 71 km/h (44 mph). They can maintain a speed of around 56-60 km/h (35-37 mph) for 4.8 km (3 mi), and they will often catch antelopes that have suffered from exhaustion after a blistering chase. They also have various hunting strategies for different sized prey, but no matter the size or speed of the prey, they will usually be the ones to come out on top. They are also hunted though, and this is by an animal you certainly don’t want on your tail—the lion. African wild dogs are native to Sub-Saharan Africa are mostly found in savanna and arid zones.
9. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit
Technically a hare and not a rabbit, the black-tailed jackrabbit, or American desert hare, is an animal that is famous for its incredibly powerful hind legs. They are capable of leaping enormous distances, and this makes them able to reach maximum speeds of up to 72 km/h (45 mph). Their large, and rather comical, ears and almost 360 degree vision ensures that they are able to very easily detect predators. They can then use their staggering speed to escape, and they are also known to use a combination of leaps and zigzags to evade their predators (hawks, eagles, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and many more animals). They are found throughout western United States and Mexico, and typically in mixed shrub-grassland terrain where they are somewhat camouflaged and able to find food (shrubs, small trees, grass and other plant species).
The fastest dog on the planet, greyhounds can reach remarkable speeds of up to 74 km/h (46 mph). They are often kept as pets and are also used for both coursing game and racing (a huge part of the gambling industry in many countries). Their length, slender frame and graceful movement makes them breathtaking to watch at full speed, and they are able to reach such speeds thanks to long and powerful legs, a deep chest, flexible spine and a very slender build. Greyhounds have astonishing acceleration, being capable of reaching 70 km/h (43 mph) within just 30 meters. Whilst this may sound terrifying (and it should be for hares and cats), greyhounds make excellent pets and have a very gentle temperament and sleep a lot. This leads some owners to refer to them as “45 mph couch potatoes.”
An animal which often finds itself chased by the greyhound, the hare is small but can reach higher speeds than its natural enemy. They can reach a maximum speed of 75 km/h (47 mph), plus they are extremely agile and have quick reflexes which work in their favor when being chased. They can only maintain this speed for around 20 meters, but are still extremely quick and when in their natural habitat (woodland) their agility makes them difficult to chase. Although similar to a rabbit, hares differ in that they are typically solitary and do not live in burrows or warrens. They are also usually slightly larger than rabbits and with longer ears. The hare is of course famous from The Tortoise and the Hare fable, where the arrogant and boastful hare loses a race with a tortoise after taking a nap during the race.
The blackbuck antelope is very impressive athletically, and is capable of reaching speeds of up to 80 km/h (50 mph) and can sustain this for around 1.5 km (.93 mi). During this period, the blackbuck takes gigantic strides with distances between hoof prints reaching as far as 6.7 meters (22 feet). Sadly, due to excessive hunting, the blackbuck is listed as Near Threatened and their range has been in sharp decline for a long time. They are native to the Indian subcontinent, with many now found in protected areas in India. They live in open plains and often in large herds with just one dominant male, and they are primarily grazers. Their chief predator was the Asiatic cheetah, which is now extinct in India. They are now hunted by wolves, with fawns being chased down by jackals and village dogs.
There is good reason that the lion is one of the most feared animals on the planet and deemed “king of the beasts.” Not only are they astonishingly powerful and large, but they are also shockingly fast and no creature on Earth would want to get into a race with a lion. Like the blackbuck, they can reach speeds of 80 km/h (50 mph), but due to their muscular frame (some males exceed 250 kg) they cannot sustain this for too long which is why they get close to their prey before attacking. They are Africa’s apex predator (top of the food chain) and also expert scavengers, but unfortunately their population is in decline mainly due to habitat loss and hunting. Although terrifying, they are truly majestic and beautiful creatures that are highly distinctive and are often used as a symbol for courage, pride and toughness.
One poor animal which is hunted by the lion is the wildebeest, a form of antelope that is native to Africa. What they do have going for them is the fact that they are large and powerful creatures which can match the speed of the lion, but they are better at endurance running. Other predators include hyenas, cheetahs, leopards and crocodiles. Due to their size, strength and horns, often the wildebeest will not flee from predators but instead use a defensive tactic of herding. This will see the larger and older wildebeest protect the young, and they are known to inflict considerable injury to their predators. They have also developed sophisticated behavior, such as taking turns sleeping, listening to alarm calls of other species and grazing with zebras for heightened awareness. Although they have some of the scariest predators, wildebeest often survive through their strength, speed and intelligence.
Into the top three now, and reaching staggering speeds of up to 88 km/h (55 mph) is the springbok. Another form of antelope, the springbok is much more slender than the wildebeest which allows it to reach higher speeds and make long jumps (up to 13 feet in the air) and make sharp turns while running. They will often leap into the air to show off or ward off predators (stotting or pronking). Although not fantastic long distance runners, their athleticism makes them adept at evading their predators which include lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas. Found in southwestern Africa, the springbok is the nickname and sometimes mascot for many of South Africa’s sports teams, most notably the national rugby team. They are one of the few antelope species to have an expanding population, but they, too, are hunted by man, largely because of their beautiful coats.
The pronghorn (American antelope) can reach the same speeds as a springbok, but they can manage much longer distances, making it the fastest animal over long distance. It can manage a top speed of 88.5 km/h (55 mph) for .8 km (.5 mi), as well as run 56 km/h for 6 km (35 mph for 4 miles). The pronghorn is indigenous to western and central North America, and this sees them have to evade the likes of bobcats, coyotes, wolves and cougars. Seeing as these predators are no match for its speed, it has been suggested that the pronghorn evolved its running ability to evade predators which are now extinct, such as the American cheetah. They have very light bone structure, hollow hair and a large windpipe which all aid its running, plus they have a gait which reaches a gigantic 7.3 meters per stride.
Although it may not come as a surprise to find the cheetah in first, it may surprise you to discover just how fast this incredible animal is. The cheetah can reach jaw dropping speeds of 109.4–120.7 km/h (68–75 mph), and this includes 0 to 96.6 km/h (60 mph) in under three seconds. For comparison, Usain Bolt’s fastest footspeed was 44.72 km/h (27.79 mph) when he set the 100 m world record. Cheetahs are also amazingly agile and able to traverse difficult terrain, as well as execute drastic changes of direction at high speed and quickly decelerate. Almost every facet of their anatomy has evolved to maximize their success when hunting, however, this makes them poorly equipped to defend themselves against other predators. Watching cheetahs run is truly majestic and beautiful, and although they can only run a minute at a time, their prey usually doesn’t stand a chance.