Champion Animal Links:

The ostrich lowered its head and glared at me.  Was that a quizzical look or an aggressive one?  I couldnít tell.  I took a few steps closer and opened my hands to show it that I had food.  Definitely quizzical now.  I stopped and waited to see if the bird would come to me.  A number of other ostrich in the flock started to pay attention and move closer.  Faced with this competition, my bird moved in and started pecking at my bribe.  I was soon surrounded.

Iím 1.8m tall, above average height, and Iím not used to feeling small Ė except at times like this.  With their heads up, ostrich stand at 2.4m.  Theyíre the tallest, and at 136kg, the heaviest birds in the world, and they are pretty intimidating at close quarters.

There were now about five ostrich pecking at my meagre supply of snacks, at my clothes and at my head.  I glanced over to see if the cameraman was ready and got down on my hands and knees.  This was the shot we wanted, something that would really show how enormous the birdís feet and legs were compared to me.  I put my face as close to the huge foot as I dared, stroked it, turned to the camera and said, ďand itís the combination of these two clawed feet for balance and these immensely powerful legs that make this bird the fastest thing on two legs, capable of sprinting away from danger at 55 miles per hour.  One kick from these can wreck a car or kill a humanĒ.  I said it a couple more times for luck, gave the birds the last of my food and backed away.

What is it about animal record-breakers that makes them so cool?  Iím always getting asked about the most dangerous snake or the fastest flying bird and to be honest, some of the most exciting adventures Iíve had over the last ten years of travelling the world filming wild animals have been when Iíve been tracking down an animal champion. 

People who do something amazing always attract our attention, and rightly so.  But even exceptional human athletes donít come close to the feats that some animals are capable of.  The worldís fastest man is Tim Montgommery.  His world record time for sprinting 100 metres is 9.78 seconds (22.87mph).  A sprinting cheetah, running over rough terrain, can cover the same distance in 4.09 seconds (60mph).

This is the question I tackled in my article in SciTec issue 9.  If you've read it, here are some links that will start you off exploring further.  As always, any questions can be emailed to me.  To order a sample issue of SciTec, follow the SciTec link.

If you want to know more about amazing animals, I seriously recommend getting your hand on a copy of The Guinness Book of Animal Records by Mark Cowardine or the original, Guinness book of Animal Facts & Feats by Gerald L Wood.  Sadly, both are now out of print, but there are plenty of second hand copies to be found.  Mark's book is more than an update of the first book, it's completely different.  The first book is quite old-fashioned and jammed full of facts and figures, the second is more readable.  I have them both and use them regularly as they are each excellent in their own way.  

There's plenty of great stuff on both human and animal record holders at the Guinness World of Records website.  Sadly, the site is designed primarily to advertise the famous book of Records and doesn't have enough information on it for my liking.

The Animal Diversity web at the University of Michigan (USA) aims to provide a guide to every animal on Earth.  They've got a way to go yet, but it's still the most amazing site, jammed full of facts, figures, pictures, videos, sounds...  Not to be missed.

Information on Cheetahs at The excellent Cheetah-Spot.  Video of a Cheetah running, courtesy of the National Geographic (Real Media Clip).  Because linking to resources on other people's sites is really bad manners, please help me clear my conscience by dropping in to the National Geographic Website

That's all for now.

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19/08/2003