Video transcript: Running with greyhounds, horses, cheetahs… and dinosaurs

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July 2009

Nancy Mendoza introduces
BBSRC-funded researcher Professor Alan Wilson studies movement in animals. His team are working towards an understanding of how very fast animals move in order to achieve remarkably high speeds. Having worked on race horses and greyhounds they have now moved on to study cheetahs. BBSRC went along to Whipsnade Zoo to see how Professor Wilson and his team are discovering information that can be used to understand limb injuries that affect motion in many animals, including humans.

Professor Alan Wilson, The Royal Veterinary College
So we are interested in animal locomotion in the broadest sense where that is all the way from looking at dinosaurs, trying to understand the limits to them, for example could Tyrannosaurus rex run, to looking at limits to performance, where performance is acceleration or turning or maximum speed running in a range of animals some of them racing animals like human sprinters, racing grey hounds, race horses through to understanding why they get injured what the mechanisms of that injury are and so that is the basic science of how animals work. The project we are doing here we’re looking at cheetahs. Cheetahs are fascinating because they are 50% faster than a racing grey hound or a race horse which has been breed for high speed locomotion. We know that different limits exist for racing grey hounds and for humans. We don’t know why the cheetah is so much faster it is just a little bit better in every way or does it have fundamental differences in the way that it runs which means it is so much quicker.

Penny Hudson, The Royal Veterinary College
We want to find out what it is about cheetahs that makes them able to run so fast. So to do that we have got these cameras that are able to record at really high speeds. So your normal cameras will record at 25 frames per second these one will do up to 1000 so we need that to be able to see every single little movement of their legs as they are running so fast. We have two on each side because when a cheetah gallops it does different things with each side of its body so it uses what we call it an asymmetrical gate. We’ve got these plates in the ground here which are able to measure the forces which goes through their legs so they are basically like sophicated Wii fit boards that will measure all the forces that they are applying to the ground.

Professor Wilson
And then we can start to determine the loads on the muscles and the skeleton and how much mechanical work they are having to do to actually gallop.

Penny Hudson
So this is our lure and here you can see it is a big loop which goes all the way round and with this piece we just catch a piece of chicken which is part of their ordinary diet and she will chase that quite happily. This is Arabia so she is about two years old and she is from Dubai so she is actually a North African cheetah. This is her reward at the end and she sits and happily munches after her run. It is quite a nice way to give her enrichment as well. It’s basically a big game to her she loves it and it kind of mimics what they do in the wild for their food. We are just going to try and call her over so I will probably take a piece of chicken with me. Now she is looking a bit we can start the luring and she knows the noise so she will come over hopefully. There she goes.

Sounds of the lure working.

Professor Wilson
So this is not just blue skies research to understand how animals work it has more practical applications we are using it to look at dairy cattle where we want to detect which ones are lame because lameness is a major problem welfare problem with dairy cattle. We are looking at people who have lost limbs and understanding the problems they have and how perhaps prosthetic limbs can be used to help them. We use it similar work with cerebral palsy and looking at gate analysis where you are trying to help the approach to managing people with these conditions so it really has a practical application as well. This is a first stage at what I hope is a programme of work so these cheetahs here are only running as fast as a racing grey hound we hope to get these cheetahs running in a larger area where they will go faster and perhaps also in the future go to Africa where we can look at cheetahs when they are actually hunting and doing their maximum effort.