I was chasing the boys around a playground recently and I suddenly better understood cheetahs. I’ve watched a fair number of nature programs showing cheetahs running down gazelles and antelopes. But I’ve also seen footage of many a cheetah walking very close to herds of prey and not even attempting to give chase.
I wasn’t sure why this was but made a few guesses. Maybe it was the common lot of mammals that the new generation is unmotivated and the young cheetahs were just lazy? Maybe zebra stripes and antelope camouflage are far more effective in the animal world than on my TV screen? Maybe the cheetah preferred curbside pickup instead of personally selecting his dinner?
But as I approached my herd of boys on the playground, I started to see things differently.
Just like the cheetah, on a straight sprint I’m faster than any one of the boys. I can’t haul at the cheetah’s impressive 80 mph, but for a short distance I can at least outpace my much shorter-legged kids. But it takes a lot of energy. And the boys don’t run in straight lines (well the 3-year-old does but he also only runs a few feet before balling up on the ground, which seems more warthog-ish than gazelle).
Especially if you’ve run a little already, a herd of boys scattered very nearby on a playground is not as easy of a target in a game of tag as it appears. Those cheetahs may not be as unmotivated as I thought. And the antelopes and gazelles aren’t as helpless as they look.
It’s the sharp cuts and zig-zag running that gets you. And the fact that when they scatter you really can’t decide which one to go after. And because they have energy to run and run while I have the energy for about two tries to catch one of them.
I found myself, much like the cheetahs and tigers and lions I’ve seen on TV, resorting to trickery to catch my prey. Hiding, pretending to go after one kid and then going after another, or faking an injury and luring a boy close enough to try and tag him all work pretty well. Although I’ve never seen that last particular technique used on the Serengeti.
I’ve learned the best technique for catching prey though, so all the wild cats from Africa reading should take note: invite the prey’s uncles over to play with them to wear them out. Somehow uncles always have more energy than dads and once they’ve run the herd around a bit one quick sprint is all that’s needed.
Now that I think about it, it seems I’ve often seen cheetahs hunting in groups so they must have already figured the uncle thing out. Maybe that’s why they’re called cheetahs.
Harris and his wife live in Pflugerville with their six sons. Please email comments or suggestions for future columns to email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Daddy Days: Cheetah-ing to catch the boys