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Zoo Cheetahs Taken for a Chase

June 20, 2008

By Matt Campbell, The Kansas City Star, Mo.

Jun. 20–Big cats in zoos tend to just lounge around, looking bored. But spots became blurs Thursday as three cheetahs at the Kansas City Zoo raced after their prey.

The zoo installed a motorized rope and pulley device that pulls a light-colored rag at high speed at grass level through the cheetahs’ exhibit. Like housecats drawn to a mouse on a string, the world’s fastest land animals were quick to the chase. In seconds they reached the limits of their hilltop enclosure and then bounded back in the other direction.

It’s a way to enrich the lives of the captive animals and give them exercise — as well as to offer people an exciting show. The zoo plans to repeat it at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and at the same time on the second Saturday of every month through November.

An observation tunnel with a picture window offers a prime and shaded spot to view the animals, which are all females from the same litter born three years ago at a preserve in Texas. They came to Kansas City last year.

The lure system was donated to the zoo by Harold Hudson of Kansas City and Key Largo, Fla.

“I’ve always had an interest in zoos,” said Hudson, who attended the demonstration Thursday. “I’ve always liked big cats.”

The cheetahs, which can sprint up to 70 mph, remained focused on the rag for a few minutes before giving up. Cheetahs don’t chase their prey for long periods. They are built for speed, not endurance.

The cheetahs, panting from their workout, headed for the shade of a tree where they could lounge and watch scimitar-horned oryx grazing in the plains below.

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@ Go to KansasCity.com for video of the cheetahs.

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4905 or send e-mail to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

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