The Olympics have begun!  While human Olympians have amazing physical abilities, for
wild animals, strength, speed, agility and endurance mean more than just medals, they are a matter of
survival.  Here is the first in a series of posts about “Animal Olympians” with gold medal-worthy

413372969_c0f2df70a7_m River Otters

This member of the weasel family would be a real contender
in the bobsled or luge competition. 
Known for their playfulness, otters often repeatedly slide down natural
mud or ice chutes that they create along riverbanks, seemingly just for the fun
of it.  Bears sometimes slide down
snowy hillsides for fun too, but they’d definitely only get the silver medal if
they were up against river otters.

VIDEO: Watch a playful river otter sliding on the ice.

Cheetahs and Pronghorns

The fastest animal on the planet is the cheetah, which can
run at speeds over 60 miles per hour. 
But even that doesn’t always ensure that this big cat gets a meal.  The gazelles and other small antelope
that are the cheetah’s main prey are not as fast at the cat, but they have
greater endurance and agility in a high-speed chase and often escape the
spotted speedster.  The silver
medal would go to the pronghorn, the planet’s second-fastest animal with a top
speed that almost matches the cheetah’s. 

Like any high level athlete, competition from the other top contenders
in your sport often makes you better, and the same is true for cheetahs and
pronghorns.  While today the
felines are only found in Africa and parts of Asia, thousands of years ago they
also roamed North America and hunted pronghorns.  Only the fastest pronghorns survived and, over many
generations, the species evolved to be almost as fast as cheetahs.

VIDEO: Learn how energy development is threatening the ancient pronghorn migration route.

Photo: / CC BY-NC 2.0
Published: February 16, 2010