BY KRISTI NEWLAND
Like many of you, I watched some of the Winter Olympics from Beijing. The commitment of athletes and the support they must have from their friends and family is incredible to see. I started wondering how certain sporting events would go if we opened them up to the animal kingdom.
When crossing the finish line for short-distance sprint races, the Cheetah would come in first at 70 mph. A charging lion would quickly arrive at 50 mph. For longer distances, you’ll have to turn to the pronghorn for the gold, hitting 61 mph. Yes, in the beginning, the cheetah is in front, if it enters the distance contest. But the pronghorn can maintain its speed for the longest distance, so it wins in the end. One thing is for sure, don’t bet on the slug or the sloth if they were to enter the race.
When the venue for the speed competition moves through the air, the winner of two gold medals, one in the diving competition and one for overall speed, would be the peregrine falcon that reaches over 200 mph on its dive from hunt. If the competition course is designed for level flight only, then watch the fast spiny tail flight at 106 mph to win the day. A water speed competition would go to the Indo-Pacific sailboat. The sailboat swims at 68 mph for short periods.
Weightlifting competitions are won by two very different species.
We’re going to the African elephant. Lifting 25% of his own body weight, he earns gold for actual tonnage lifted (up to 3,500 pounds). When the competition is based on body size, the rhinoceros beetle takes first place on the podium, lifting 850 times its body weight.
For the high jump, you may need to pull out your magnifying glass to really appreciate the effort. Relative to its height, the flea is the winner, jumping 130 times its own height. The chip is also the winner of the relative long jump spanning 220 times its body length.
If the competition is about actual jump length, the 50-foot snow leopard and 40-foot red kangaroo would vie for top honors. As for speed jumping (okay, I made this competition up), the red kangaroo is back, jumping at 56 mph.
If there was a biting contest, the top contenders would be the Saltwater Crocodile, which has a measured bite force of 3,700 psi. The American alligator grabs silver with around 2125 psi. The hippo takes the podium for bronze at 1820 psi, followed by the jaguar at around 1500 psi and the gorilla at 1300 psi.
The deepest diving mammal competition would be a close call between the sperm whale and the elephant seal, both diving more than a mile deep. The loudest cheering section would be filled with blue whales. They can emit sounds of 188 decibels (a jet engine is 140 dB) that have been detected up to 530 miles away.
So far, our events have focused on the individual. And the teams?
There are a number of birds that will effectively band together to drive off a common threat. Other animals, such as zebras, wildebeest, and many fish, use strength in numbers to keep the group safe. Another team event for some species is hunting. Lions and wolves are the typical teams you’d expect, but there are also birds like butchers and some kookaburras that come together when hunting.
Animals compete in nature every day just to survive. We invite you to visit the zoo and see your favorite animal athletes and find out what you can do to help them win their race.
Kristi Newland is Zoo Director Lee Richardson.