A custom-made contraption has catapulted the Oregon Zoo’s cheetahs toward a new level of fitness. Dubbed the “cheetahpult,” it’s an 8-foot wooden device that flings a ball far enough for a cheetah — the fastest land animal on earth — to chase. After more conventional ball launchers fell short, the cheetahpult was designed and built by staff members with the zoo’s speediest residents in mind.
“I tried hitting balls for them with a tennis racket, but I could tell they wanted to run farther and faster,” said Beth Foster, a keeper at the Oregon Zoo and one of the designers of the cheetahpult. “Now that I can fling the balls to the far end of their habitat, everyone’s having a lot more fun.”
The cheetahpult is a hand-cranked machine that launches lightweight plastic balls up to 150 feet into the cheetah habitat in the zoo’s Predators of the Serengeti area. Foster sets it up outside of the habitat and sends the balls inside, where Darlene and Mary Jane, the zoo’s two cheetahs, chase and retrieve them. When they’re ready for another round, they drop the balls in a bucket.
“In the wild, cheetahs run very quickly in short bursts,” Foster said. “The cheetahpult is a great activity for them because it brings out those natural behaviors.”
Foster worked with the zoo’s maintenance staff to design and build the cheetahpult, which has been through several rounds of cheetah-approved testing.