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cheetahs by Mickey and Caroline

DragonflyTV has gone global! We're Mickey and Caroline, and we're at the Cheetah Conservation Fund, located in Otjiwarongo, Namibia. We're working with Dr. Laurie Marker, who told us that the Fund protects cheetahs that were either orphaned when their mothers were killed or captured by farmers to protect their herds. We wanted to learn even more about how these big cats and how they thrive in their natural habitat, so we asked the DragonflyTV question: What time of day is best for cheetahs to hunt their prey, and why?

What did we do?
First we helped Dr. Laurie in caring for the cats, observing what they ate, when they slept, and how they played (including racing after a high-speed cheetah "cat toy" for exercise). Then we did a little research on their feeding. Like all predators, cheetahs depend on the population of prey animals. So we conducted her own "game count," observing how the population of prey animals changes over the course of a day. On the same six-kilometer section of road, we made observations at "breakfast" (8:00 A.M.) and again at "lunch time" (12:00 noon.)

What did we find out?
The earliest game count yielded the greatest number of animals and the greatest varietyâ€"oryx, red hartebeest, and even a few warthogs. We saw that the hot midday temperatures have a big effect on the available prey; it's just too hot for the prey animals to hang out! This definitely impacts the cheetah's midday hunting behavior.

What can you do?
  • Investigate your kitty's ability to smell different scents. Get three bowls. Rub the inside of the first bowl with something like jelly, leaving just a little smear. Put a small smear of peanut butter in the second, and ketchup in the third, or pick whatever flavors and smells you think your cat will like. Hide the bowls in a room, then bring your cat in. Which bowl does she find first? Does she ignore any of them?
  • You've probably played "Sharks and Whales" in gym class, right? Well, do a science experiment with the game. Get a bunch of kids, say 12 or more, and start with just one shark. Have someone start a watch, and time how long it takes for the shark to catch all the whales. Now play a new round, starting with two sharks right away. Continue this way, adding another shark with each round. Collect your data and look for a trend. Another variation is to change the size of the playing field, or "ocean", and see what effect that has on the time.
  • Use this cheetah investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
more resources
More on endangered species.

Go to the DFTV Boards, and tell us about your science investigation.
whiz quiz
What is the world's largest living organism?

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