Meet Sarah, the world's fastest land mammal (who knocks spots off Usain Bolt's 100m record)

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The Independent Online

Usain Bolt may be the fastest man on the planet but the Jamaican sprinter has got a long way to go if he ever wants to catch up with Sarah the cheetah. The eight-year-old feline has officially became the world's fastest recorded land mammal after breaking the world record not once, but twice.

Scientists at Cincinnati Zoo, Ohio, used a specially designed course at their cheetah breeding facility to measure how fast Sarah could run over a 100m course. While the habitual record-breaker Bolt recently ran once more into the record books by sprinting 100m in 9.58 seconds, Sarah managed to cover the same distance in 6.16 seconds on the first attempt and shaved it down to 6.13 the second time around.

Both times she easily beat the previous world record set by Nyana, a male cheetah who managed 6.19 seconds and become a well known ambassador for the plight of his highly endangered species in his native South Africa.

A video of Sarah's successful run earlier this week shows how the zoo used a fluffy toy dog to entice her out of a cage and on to a specially prepared running track, where scientists could measure her speed. During one attempt Sarah easily caught up with her bait.

Cheetahs are able to reach such high speeds because they have a flexible spine that allows their legs to stretch to such long lengths that they can often cover 22ft in one stride. But their numbers are still in rapid decline despite decades of conservation efforts. Over the past century cheetah populations in southern Africa have declined by as much as 90 per cent.

Centuries ago the cats could be found widely across the African continent and as far afield as Kazakhstan and Burma. Estimates of Africa's population vary from 9,000 to 14,000. Cincinnati's breeding facility has so far produced 37 cubs through captive breeding and hopes that Sarah's new record will help raise the profile of cheetahs worldwide. "These events are designed to highlight conservation of these wonderful creatures and to make people realise what they could lose," said Cathryn Hilker, founder of Cincinnati Zoo's cat ambassador programme.

Speed demons

* The peregrine falcon is thought to be the fastest bird, reaching speeds of 242mph during a dive. At top speed that's the equivalent of running the 100m in 0.009 seconds.

* The fastest fish ever recorded is the saltfish, which has been clocked at 68mph.

* Usain Bolt is estimated to have topped 28mph in setting a new 100m world record of 9.58 seconds.