What is the fastest mammal?

How does Usain Bolt's top speed compare to the top speed of a cheetah and what is Britain's fastest land mammal? Our expert mammal guide looks at which is species is the fastest is the world and how fast they go!

Cheetah chasing Thomson's gazelle in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. © James Warwick/Getty

Discover which is the fastest mammal in the world, plus how to identify in our expert guide.

Cheetah – top speed 94kph

A cheetah can reach speeds of up to 87kph. © Mike Powles/Getty
A cheetah can reach speeds of up to 87kph. © Mike Powles/Getty

Cheetahs are not only fast but also have amazing acceleration. Researchers found they can increase their speed by 10kph in a single stride. Coupled with their ability to change direction, this is an essential part of their hunting strategy that enables them to take down gazelles that are twisting and turning in their efforts to escape.

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Pronghorn – top speed 86kph

Pronghorn buck. © S.B.Nace/Getty
Pronghorn buck. © S.B.Nace/Getty

Pronghorns are herbivores that resemble both antelopes and deer, but are actually neither. They are found in Canada, the USA and Mexico, and their ability to run both fast and for very long periods allows them to comfortably outpace pursuing coyotes and bobcats.


Brown hare –  top speed 72kph

European brown hare © Chris Upson/Getty
European brown hare © Chris Upson/Getty

Brown hares are Britain’s fastest land mammal. Similar in appearance to rabbits, they live on open grassland landscapes rather than underground warrens. That’s why they need to be so quick, because, while rabbits can dive down a hole, hares must be able to out-run their pursuers.


African wild dog – top speed 56kph

Close-up of African wild dog, Getty
African wild dog at Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa © Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket/Getty

African wild dogs may not be the world’s top sprinters, but unlike other carnivores they have incredible endurance, maintaining speeds of 60kph for up to 5km. Their hunting strategy depends on their being able to tire out their prey, which include species such as impalas, kudus, Thompson’s gazelles and springboks.


Red kangaroo – top speed 56kph

Red kangaroo hopping © JohnCarnemolla / iStock
Red kangaroos’ not only have speed, but their stamina is also impressive © JohnCarnemolla/iStock

It’s not kangaroos’ top speed that makes them special, but how they move and their incredible stamina. Hopping is a very energy-efficient form of locomotion and, in the vast Australian outback, that’s good news when they may have to travel long distances in search of food.


Swift fox – top speed 48kph

Swift fox in the wild, Getty
A swift fox vixen pauses near her den in the Pawnee National Grasslands, Colorado. © Getty

Swift foxes were named by European settlers to North America because of their naturally speedy behaviour. Adapted to living in grassland prairies, they need to be fast in order to catch prey such as jackrabbits, cottontails, rodents and birds, and to escape predators such as coyotes.


Human – top speed 45kph

6th IAAF World Athletics Championships London 2017, Getty
Akani Simbine of South Africa, Christian Coleman of the United States, Usain Bolt of Jamaica and Jimmy Vicaut of Francea cross the finish line in the men’s 100m final during day two of the 16th IAAF World Athletics Championships London in 2017. © Richard Heathcote/Getty

This is Usain Bolt’s top speed measured on his record-breaking 100m sprint. Humans have evolved for endurance rather than speed, and our long-distance ability evolved as a strategy to wear down and hunt prey. Tribal hunters in the Kalahari in southern Africa still use this method.


Elephant –  top speed 24kph

African elephant photographed from ground level in the savannah
African elephant. © Manoj Shah/Getty

Recent research suggests that an elephant’s top speed is closer to 24kph than the often quoted 40kph, but having few natural enemies, they don’t need to move fast. They do travel great distances, however. In the deserts of Namibia, they have been recorded covering more than 200km to find food and water.

Elephant guide: species facts and best places to see in the wild


Hedgehog – top speed 2.4kph

European hedgehog on grass
European hedgehog population is in decline/Credit: Getty

In general, hedgehogs don’t achieve even this speed. They may move slowly, but they can roam big distances – up to 2km during their night-time foraging for beetles, slugs and worms. Their main defence against predators is their spines, and once rolled up into a ball, only badgers can kill them.

European hedgehog guide: where to see and how to help hedgehogs


Sloth – top speed 04kph

The three -toed sloth is active during the day and only eats leaves from trees and lianas. They move to a new tree often enough to balance their diet, or about once every 1. 5 days. Sloths (here the three-toed) are hunted by big cats such as pumas and jaguars, and birds of prey © Danita Delimont / Getty
The three -toed sloth is active during the day and only eats leaves from trees and lianas. They move to a new tree often enough to balance their diet, or about once every 1. 5 days.
Sloths (here the three-toed) are hunted by big cats such as pumas and jaguars, and birds of prey. © Danita Delimont/Getty

Sloths are adapted for living in trees, where they move very slowly. They only come to the ground to poo or, if necessary, to move to a different tree. Because a sloth may only need seven to 12 trees in its entire lifetime, this is a rare event!


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Main image: Cheetah chasing Thomson’s gazelle in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. © James Warwick/Getty