for National Geographic News
Cheetahs are world's fastest land animals, able to top 60 miles an hour (100 kilometers an hour).
(Watch cheetah video.)
But their speed, along with their tendency to fixate on their prey while giving chase, can prove fatal.
Cheetahs can be oblivious to hazards such as thorns and broken branches that hide in African grasslands. And headlong crashes can cause blindness or death.
Recent reported cheetah deaths suggest that some of the cats had their stomachs ripped open by hidden branches.
This has prompted the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre, a cheetah rehabilitation and breeding facility outside Pretoria, South Africa, to monitor the situation.
Vannessa Bouwer, the center's deputy director, says there is a growing suspicion that such injuries are more common than first suspected.
"We couldn't say for sure before. Because the injuries turn out mostly to be fatal, the victim simply disappeared," she said.
Now the center uses radio collars to track cheetahs placed on game reserves.
As a result, Bouwer says, "we are able to find them and more or less establish the cause of death."
Cheetahs: Grassland Hunters
Experts have known for some time that cheetahs are particularly prone to eye injuries from thorns and spikes.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES