Scientists say that theoretically a human might one day be able to run as fast as 40 miles per hour, but according to the New York Times, as of last year, the fastest human speed ever recorded was 27.5 miles per hour, by Usain Bolt in a 100-meter dash in 2009. And he reached that speed only briefly in the middle section of a 329-foot sprint.
Compared to the fastest animals in the world, in other words, humans – even Usain Bolt – are turtles. Several animals can run at a pace that many of us would drive on a highway. The fastest of these – the world’s fastest animal – is the cheetah.
Why are some animals so fast? Primarily to chase and kill prey. The cheetah can hit speeds of over 70 mph. Its prey – primarily antelopes like the impala, springbok, and gazelle – are also fast, so the cheetah’s speed is essential to its existence. (Size can also protect animals from predators. These are the 10 biggest animals in the world.)
Cheetahs are relatively small, about four feet in length and weighing 50 to 100 pounds. The population of cheetahs, who live primarily in Africa with a smaller number in Asia, has dropped enough so a number of naturalists have lobbied for it to be added to the endangered list. Presently, they are listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union on the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. (Many American animals are endangered, too. Here’s a list of the most threatened wildlife in every state.)
In compiling a list of the fastest animals in the world, 24/7 Tempo reviewed “The Fastest Mammals in the World,” published by World Atlas. We added the thoroughbred racehorse, which was not on the World Atlas list, using information from Guinness World Records. A number of birds and fish are as fast as the cheetah or faster. A black marlin can swim at over 80 miles per hour, while a peregrine falcon can dive at speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour.
Many of the fastest mammals besides the cheetah also live in Africa, and three are species of antelope. The lion is not far behind the cheetah in speed. The fastest dog, often used for racing, is the greyhound, which is just behind the hare, a species related to the rabbit.